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Pope Francis wrote a letter to the American bishops, on retreat at Mundelein Seminary this week.

Here’s the text.

It is, honestly, the usual strange/not-strange message from Pope Francis. Strange in that he goes all over the place except to the specific place where the problem resides, and not-strange in that, well, this is what he usually does, and there’s always a reason for that.

Your experience of reading the letter might be like mine (or it might not – who knows!) – I read it and nodded and thought, Well, not bad, that’s true, sure, it’s good for these things to be said, nice point there and then I finished, thought about it for a minute, and realized that none of the specific problematic issues had actually been addressed and further, the spiritual context which Pope Francis recommends for going forward, it could be argued, actually enables the original problematic actions. Many problematic actions.

To begin with:

“At times of great confusion and uncertainty, we need to be attentive and discerning, to free our hearts of compromises and false certainties, in order to hear what the Lord asks of us in the mission he has given us. Many actions can be helpful, good and necessary, and may even seem correct, but not all of them have the “flavour” of the Gospel. To put it colloquially, we have to be careful that “the cure does not become worse than the disease”. And this requires of us wisdom, prayer, much listening and fraternal communion.”

Quite true, of course.

The first consequence that Pope Francis raises, the first issue that seems to require addressing is that of credibility:

“The Church’s credibility has been seriously undercut and diminished by these sins and crimes, but even more by the efforts made to deny or conceal them. This has led to a growing sense of uncertainty, distrust and vulnerability among the faithful. As we know, the mentality that would cover things up, far from helping to resolve conflicts, enabled them to fester and cause even greater harm to the network of relationships that today we are called to heal and restore.

We know that the sins and crimes that were committed, and their repercussions on the ecclesial, social and cultural levels, have deeply affected the faithful. They have caused great perplexity, upset and confusion…”

This is institutional thinking, isn’t it? It is, in fact, one of the core attitudes that led to the level of this scandal over the past decades (and probably always): This makes us look bad.

One could say that this is really nothing more than the traditional Catholic understanding of scandal  – a true and valid way of entering into this situation and its consequences. But it’s actually a little different. For traditionally, scandal is seen as a negative because it works to obfuscate the power and truth of the Gospel – people can’t see Jesus because you, the one supposedly representing it, have gotten completely in the way. There’s a hint of this here, but the entire passage is really more about the problem of people seeing the institution in a negative light being a problem simply because it’s better that they see it in a positive light.

“The loss of credibility also raises painful questions about the way we relate to one another. Clearly, a living fabric has come undone, and we, like weavers, are called to repair it. This involves our ability, or inability, as a community to forge bonds and create spaces that are healthy, mature and respectful of the integrity and privacy of each person. It involves our ability to bring people together and to get them enthused and confident about a broad, shared project that is at once unassuming, solid, sober and transparent.”

And so on. The rest of the letter expresses Francis’ usual themes – listen, dialogue, make space for the new, prioritize unity, don’t impose abstractions:

“This approach demands of us the decision to abandon a modus operandi of disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim or the scold in our relationships, and instead to make room for the gentle breeze that the Gospel alone can offer. Let us not forget that “the collegial lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth”. [6] Let us try to break the vicious circle of recrimination, undercutting and discrediting, by avoiding gossip and slander in the pursuit of a path of prayerful and contrite acceptance of our limitations and sins, and the promotion of dialogue, discussion and discernment. This will dispose us to finding evangelical paths that can awaken and encourage the reconciliation and credibility that our people and our mission require of us.”

 

And so I wonder:

Is this situation a problem because it diminished the institution’s credibility and threatens bonds of communion or…because people committed all sorts of sins of commission and omission, used other human beings, did great harm to God’s children and offended and disobeyed the Lord who created us for good, not evil?

The framework and assumption that what’s most at stake here is institutional credibility is exactly what led to cover-ups and protection of clerical perpetrators. Exactly. That, of course, is nothing the Holy Father would defend and is what his letter is presented in opposition to, but until you shake that framework that privileges the horizontal over the vertical, you’re stuck in the same rut. It’s subtle, but is at the core of so many problems in the contemporary Church, including this one:

Understanding human actions and choices as fundamentally, basically a response to God’s call and yes, law, keeps everything else in context, since, of course, God’s fundamental call is to love.

Understanding human actions as fundamentally, basically oriented towards keeping some sort of peace with others or creating a certain environment without our obligation to God at the center – absolute, unmoving center, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us – makes it really easy for us to create our own reality, including our own definitions for sin and forgiveness.

It’s the difference between living inside the Garden – or outside. That’s really the whole point of Genesis 1-3.

In short, it just seems to me that a week of reflection on this needs to not start with metaphors of jars and pebbles or concerns about credibility, but rather something more along the lines of Psalm 32.

Which it probably did, outside the official public communications.

Anyway, I haven’t even remarked on what struck me as the most problematic aspect of this letter: the deep, repeated call to work together, be unified, be in communion and so on.

Wait, what? Why is that a problem? I mean…isn’t dialogue and communion the point?

No. Truth is.

And the reason the harping on unity and scolding about “recrimination” is problematic in this context is that one of the crucial issues leading to this crisis was precisely that:  prioritizing of the external bonds between clerics above telling the truth and the privileging of protecting image over allowing consequences to be borne.

Who’s against dialogue and a mature search for answers and new ways forward? Hey, not me! But nothing at all will change if that dialogue is conducted in a context in which we are focused on how we think we should make each other feel and how the world sees us rather than on how all of this looks to God, –  or if we’re more invested in saying things that make us seem open-minded and unified rather than saying true things, no matter how harsh they may be.

Is the culture of church leadership in desperate need of encouragement to be more gently tolerant of all points of view and less critical of each other? Seems to me it’s pretty much the opposite.

We don’t create the bonds of Christian unity. God does this. Jesus Christ does, through Baptism. Our call is to recognize those bonds, strengthen them and then do the harder thing:  be willing to recognize when those bonds have been broken by sin  – and courageously say it out loud, no matter what the price.

Shorter, cynical version: When you’re told to get along and play nice, you’re probably being played. 

 

 

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You know, sometimes Ash Wednesday is super early. Like last year, remember? It was February 10. (The earliest it can be is February 4)

When it does fall that early, some of us complain and moan that we haven’t even had time to recover from Christmas or enjoy us some Ordinary Time when here comes Lent. 

Well, here’s what I say. I say that if this year were last year, Lent would already be almost half over and wouldn’t that be great!  The sooner it begins, the sooner it ends.

— 2 —

Several Lent-themed posts this past week:

(Not a post, but look for me in Living Faith tomorrow – 2/25)

daybreaks-lent

ched-day-04-01-1946-053-m5-copy

— 3—

The role of the press in helping – or not- us understand what is going on in the world continues to be debated. I thought this Tweet from attorney and Federalist contributor Gabriel Malor summed up the problem nicely: 

— 4 —

Another excellent contribution to commentary on the present ecclesial moment: “The New Jansenism” from First Things. 

We are, indeed, plagued by a new sort of Jansenism, one rooted in presumption rather than despair. The “old” Jansenism arose from both anthropological and theological despair—the Catholic absorption of total depravity, and the loss of hope in the possibility of salvation. Ironically, those who criticize the four cardinals—and anyone who believes that Amoris Laetitia is in need of clarification—often fall into a new form of Jansenism. This “new” Jansenism is marked by a similar pessimism with respect to human nature—total depravity under a new name, whether “weakness” or “woundedness” or “greyness.” And like what preceded it, the new Jansenism articulates a loss of hope in the power of grace to regenerate the soul. The difference is that the new Jansenism tends towards presumption.

— 5 —.

BBC 3 has a video series called “Things not to say to..fill in the blank.”   Some of them concern people with conditions like Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and facial disfigurements. Very worthwhile.

— 6 —

“Boy with ‘no brain’ stuns doctors.” 

noah-wall

Over the past year, Noah’s brain has continued to develop beyond all expectation.

A brain scan taken when he was three years old showed that his brain had expanded to 80% of a normal brain – an incredible result that no doctor expected.

Now, after a series of painful and difficult operations on his hips, he’s even contemplating the possibility one day of walking.

— 7 —

And on the Catholic blogger front:

Mark Zuckerberg (not a Catholic blogger) was in Birmingham earlier this week – he’s doing this wandering-around-America tour thing, which surely seems like groundwork for running for political office to me, but anyway. He started his tour of Alabama down in Mobile, then worked his way up here. After meeting with Anthony Ray Hinton, wrongly convicted of murder and confined on death row for three decades, the Zuckerbergs dined at a place called Oven Bird  obviously because, I am assuming, Lisa Hendey told them about it, since that’s where I took her when she visited Birmingham in December. And there’s your Catholic blogger connection on that one.

Thomas Peters, whom some of you remember as the “American Papist” blogger and who still writes in other capacities, was paralyzed in a swimming accident several years ago. OSV catches up with Tom and Natalie Peters here. 

Jeff Miller started blogging not too long after I did – way back in 2002, according to his archives. He’s been around for a long time as the Curt Jester, writing witty Catholic blog posts, reviewing books and talking tech. Jeff’s wife Socorro passed away last month, and he writes a moving blog post about her here. 

I can hardly write how devastated I am from losing her. After over 36 years of marriage I am certainly struggling day-to-day. I thank God for my faith and that she was the instrumental cause God used in my conversion. She was a women of prayer day in and day out despite all those years when I held her faith in little regard. In my then atheistic pride her faith was something I had to put up with. To the end she never wavered in her faith or her prayers. In those final days when she could hardly communicate – she was still making the sign of the cross.

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

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It’s the feast of St. Martin of Tours! Let’s begin, as we often do, with the pastoral and clear catechesis of B16, from a 2007 Angelus talk:

Today, 11 November, the Church remembers St Martin, Bishop of Tours, one of the most celebrated and venerated Saints of Europe. Born of pagan parents in Pannonia, in what is today Hungary, he was directed by his father to a military career around the year 316. Still an adolescent, Martin came into contact with Christianity and, overcoming many difficulties, he enrolled as a catechumen in order to prepare for Baptism. He would receive the Sacrament in

"Amy welborn"

Unknown Artist, St. Martin of Tours, 16th cent.

his 20s, but he would still stay for a long time in the army, where he would give testimony of his new lifestyle: respectful and inclusive of all, he treated his attendant as a brother and avoided vulgar entertainment. Leaving military service, he went to Poitiers in France near the holy Bishop Hilary. He was ordained a deacon and priest by him, chose the monastic life and with some disciples established the oldest monastery known in Europe at Ligugé. About 10 years later, the Christians of Tours, who were without a Pastor, acclaimed him their Bishop. From that time, Martin dedicated himself with ardent zeal to the evangelization of the countryside and the formation of the clergy. While many miracles are attributed to him, St Martin is known most of all for an act of fraternal charity. While still a young soldier, he met a poor man on the street numb and trembling from the cold. He then took his own cloak and, cutting it in two with his sword, gave half to that man. Jesus appeared to him that night in a dream smiling, dressed in the same cloak.

Dear brothers and sisters, St Martin’s charitable gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist, supreme Sign of God’s love, Sacramentum caritatis. It is the logic of sharing which he used to authentically explain love of neighbour. May St Martin help us to understand that only by means of a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if a world model of authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.

Let us turn now to the Virgin Mary so that all Christians may be like St Martin, generous witnesses of the Gospel of love and tireless builders of jointly responsible sharing.

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Appropriate for theY St. Martin is also mentioned in the 2005 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:

Finally, let us consider the saints, who exercised charity in an exemplary way. Our thoughts turn especially to Martin of Tours († 397), the soldier who became a monk and a bishop: he is almost like an icon, illustrating the irreplaceable value of the individual testimony to charity. At the gates of Amiens, Martin gave half of his cloak to a poor man: Jesus himself, that night, appeared to him in a dream wearing that cloak, confirming the permanent validity of the Gospel saying: “I was naked and you clothed me … as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:36, 40).[36] Yet in the history of the Church, how many other testimonies to charity could be quoted! In particular, the entire monastic movement, from its origins with Saint Anthony the Abbot († 356), expresses an immense service of charity towards neighbour. In his encounter “face to face” with the God who is Love, the monk senses the impelling need to transform his whole life into service of neighbour, in addition to service of God. This explains the great emphasis on hospitality, refuge and care of the infirm in the vicinity of the monasteries. It also explains the immense initiatives of human welfare and Christian formation, aimed above all at the very poor, who became the object of care firstly for the monastic and mendicant orders, and later for the various male and female religious institutes all through the history of the Church. The figures of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Luigi Orione, Teresa of Calcutta to name but a few—stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love.

 

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The Life of St. Martin written by a contemporary and defender, Sulpitius Severus:

ACCORDINGLY, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar. They especially felt this, because, being possessed of more than Martin, they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man. He contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, and was told to own as his the robe which he had given. Ere long, he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing round — “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” The Lord, truly mindful of his own words (who had said when on earth — “Inasmuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these, ye have done them unto me”), declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man; and to confirm the testimony he bore to so good a deed, he condescended to show him himself in that very dress which the poor man had received. After this vision the sainted man was not puffed up with human glory, but, acknowledging the goodness of God in what had been done, and being now of the age of twenty years, he hastened to receive baptism. He did not, however, all at once, retire from military service, yielding to the entreaties of his tribune, whom he admitted to be his familiar tent-companion.[11] For the tribune promised that, after the period of his office had expired, he too would retire from the world. Martin, kept back by the expectation of this event, continued, although but in name, to act the part of a soldier, for nearly two years after he had received baptism.

The whole thing is fairly short and quite interesting to read – as I read this ancient documents, what I am always looking for is commonalities – of human nature, of belief, of human choices and reactions. Consider the reactions of the bystanders described in the passage above.

Has anything really changed?

Underneath all that is “new” for us…has anything fundamental about who we are and the redemption for which we yearn really changed?

— 4 —

Martin of Tours
By Charles L. O’Donnell

“AS I today was wayfaring”—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—low—
Said Christ in heaven’s evening—
The Holies yet more hushed and slow—
“I met a knight upon the road;
A plumed charger he bestrode.

“He saw the beggar that was I—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—long—
Head and foot one beggary—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—song— 
One that shivered in the cold
While his horse trailed cloth of gold.

“Down he leaped, his sword outdrawn—
Holy, Holy, Holy!—swells—
Cleaved his cloak, laid half upon—
Holy! now a peal of bells—
Shoulders that the cross had spanned;
And I think he kissed my hand.

“Then he passed the road along,
Holy, Holy, Holy!—laud— 
Caroling a knightly song—
Holy! in the face of God.
Yea, Father, by Thy sovereign name,
Begging is a goodly game.”

 

— 5 —.

The author of the poemwas a priest, and not only a priest and a poet but a scholar and president of Notre Dame. Well.

Restoration

From these dead leaves the winds have caught
And on the brown earth fling,
Yea, from their dust, new hosts shall rise
At the trumpet call of Spring.

Thus may the winds our ashes take,
But in that far dusk dim,
When God’s eye hath burnt up the worlds,
This flesh shall stand with Him.

— 6 —

Restoration

From these dead leaves the winds have caught
And on the brown earth fling,
Yea, from their dust, new hosts shall rise
At the trumpet call of Spring.

Thus may the winds our ashes take,
But in that far dusk dim,
When God’s eye hath burnt up the worlds,
This flesh shall stand with Him.

— 7 —

Advent begins in about two weeks. The first Sunday of Advent is November 27.

Still time to order resources for your parish or school! Just.
Here is the devotional I wrote for Liguori this year.

Link to English version.

daybreaks

Link to Spanish version.

2016 Advent Devotional

Link to excerpts from Spanish version.

And an endorsement from Deacon Greg Kandra!

“This ravishing collection brings Advent and Christmas, literally, home. In brief essays that are by turns inspiring, surprising, and unexpectedly moving, Amy Welborn helps us see the coming of the Christ child in things we take for granted. This captivating little book is one to read, treasure, share, give—and read again.

 

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

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