Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Poor and Poverty in Evangelii Gaudium

By Víctor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Biblioteca Amerindia
April 2014

1. Symbolic gestures

The new Pope Francis, before giving many speeches and writing encyclicals, made a series of symbolic gestures charged with great significance that have been easily understood by everyone and widely aired by the social media.

Those gestures have changed the church environment that predominated up to now: kissing a disabled boy and embracing a man with a completely deformed face, washing the feet of a young Muslim woman, eating with children with Down syndrome in Assisi, going to the island of Lampedusa on his first trip outside of Rome and tossing out a wreath of yellow and white flowers to commemorate the deceased immigrants, convening a world day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria because the faces of the children dead because of chemical weapons strongly challenged him, using his old shoes rather than the red shoes of his predecessor, not living in the Vatican apostolic palace but in the Saint Martha residence, traveling around Rome in a simple small utilitarian car so as not to scandalize the people in the peripheral working class neighborhoods, answering the questions of a non-believing journalist, inviting rabbis from Argentina to Saint Martha's, giving little shoes to Cristina Fernández de Kirschner's grandchild, receiving Gustavo Gutierrez, the father of liberation theology, bringing a bouquet of flowers to the grave of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, inviting four beggars for his birthday,...These "little flowers of Pope Francis", like the "little flowers of John XXIII", have been easily understood by the people.

But gradually he has been sending out great pastoral messages and his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World, presents the whole program of his pontificate, his pastoral roadmap. From this exhortation, we will point out what Francis says about the poor and poverty.

2. Realities are more important than ideas (231-233)

This statement, surprising in the writings of the Magisterium which often seems to put ideas ahead of reality, affirms the priority of reality over the elaboration of ideas. Otherwise, reality is hidden by angelism, totalitarianism of the relative, nominalism, projects that are more form than real, ahistorical fundamentalism, ethicism without mercy, intellectualism without wisdom. Ideas must be connected with reality. The incarnation of the Word is the criterion that leads us to treasure the history of the Church as the history of salvation, to remember our saints who inculturated the gospel in the lives of our peoples, not pretend to develop thoughts disconnected from reality. On the other hand, prioritizing reality leads us to bring the Word into practice, to not build on sand.

Aren't we looking at the Latin American method of starting from reality, joining seeing with judging and acting? This used and supported methodology will positively determine the whole subject of poverty and the poor.

3. Prophetic denunciation of an unjust system (53-59)

According to the above, we can't be surprised that the exhortation begins by denouncing the great ills of today's society and harshly criticizing the model of society that prevails: no to an economy of exclusion and inequality, which is an economy that kills, that values a two-point drop in the stock market more than the death of an old man from the cold; no to the new idolatry of money; no to the dictatorship of a faceless economy based on a desire for power and possession that knows no bounds; no to money that rules instead of serving and that threatens to degrade people who are outside the market and who are reduced to scrap and surplus; no to the inequality that generates violence, because it springs from an economic system that is unjust at its roots; no to the exacerbation of consumption, no to the social cancer of corruption, to the culture of social anesthesia that prevents us from sympathizing with the suffering.

Faced with this situation, we are exhorted to disinterested solidarity, to create a more humane social order, to turn the economy and financial system towards an ethos that favors human beings, to remember that to fail to share our resources with the poor is to rob them and put them to death. In the name of Christ, we are reminded of the obligation the rich have to help, respect and promote the poor.

4. The new faces of the poor (210-216)

New types of poverty and vulnerability are pointed out, new faces of the poor in which we are called to recognize Christ: the homeless, drug addicts, refugees, indigenous people, the elderly who are more and more alone and neglected, migrants, victims of human trafficking, women who are doubly poor and who suffer from exclusion, abuse and violence, unborn children. In all these cases, it's about defending life and human rights.

To this is added the vulnerability of creation at the mercy of economic interests and indiscriminate exploitation, which leads to desertification of the soil, ecological illness, turning even the wonderful marine world into underwater cemeteries stripped of life and color. Like St. Francis, we Christians are called to care for the vulnerability of the people and the world in which we live.

Surely Pope Francis' sensitivity towards the poor and the new faces of poverty is nothing recent. It's not an improvisation; it's the fruit of long years of contact with and contemplation of the poor, the slums, and of pastoral support for the slum priests of Buenos Aires. This attitude is the result of taking the social dimension of faith seriously.

5. The social dimension of faith (175-186)

The social aspect forms an essential part of the faith and the Christian kerygma. Community life and commitment to others are at the very heart of the Gospel. The acceptance of the love of God implies wanting, seeking out and caring for the good of others. What we do towards others has a transcendent aspect. Our brothers and sisters are an extension of the Incarnation of Jesus (Mt 25:40). Reading of the Scriptures assures us that faith is not just a purely personal relationship with God, and that our response to that love can't be reduced to small personal gestures towards the needy, a kind of "charity à la carte".

Jesus' plan is the Kingdom of God, that God reign among us and in society through justice, fraternity, peace, and dignity for all, for the whole human being and for all people. The commandment to charity embraces all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all milieus of coexistence, and every people. Nothing human can be alien to it.

Religion can't seclude itself in the private arena, just to prepare souls for heaven. God also wants the happiness of His children here on Earth, even though they are called to the fullness of eternity. No one can demand that we relegate religion to the secret privacy of the individual without any influence in social and national life, without being concerned about the institutions of civil society, without commenting on the events that affect citizens.

Authentic faith always involves commitment to changing the world, transforming values, leaving something better behind our passing through this world. It is incumbent on Christian communities to analyze the situation of their country objectively and draw out the practical implications from the social principles.

6. Hearing the cry of the poor (186-191)

One consequence of the above is that we Christians are invited to hear the cry of the poor, as God heard the cry of the Israelites in Egypt (Ex. 3:7-8,10), as the New Testament urges us to hear the cry of the workers who were denied their wages (James 5:4). How can he who closes his heart against his brother in need remain in God's love? (1 Jn 3:17). The Church, guided by the Gospel, hears the cry for justice, which means solving the structural causes of poverty, promoting the comprehensive development of the poor, offering the most everyday gestures of solidarity and support.

But solidarity is much more than sporadic generosity. It's creating a new guiding mentality in terms of community, the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by some. It's recognizing the social role of property and the universal use of goods as primary realities before private property. This solidarity must generate new attitudes without which even structural changes aren't viable in the long term.

Francis' doctrine, purely an updated reflection of the social doctrine in Church tradition, may seem new and even shocking to many. Could it be that we've forgotten the most essential facts of Jesus' gospel such as brotherly love and the communion of goods?

7. A poor Church and for the poor (192-209)

Hearing the cry of the poor becomes part of our flesh when we shudder at the pain of others. All Scripture is a call to compassion and mercy, brotherly love, justice, and humble service to the poor. Let's not worry just about falling into doctrinal error. Let's also worry about whether our defense of doctrinal orthodoxy has become passive, insensitive and complicit in intolerable situations of injustice and the political regimes that maintain them.

God's heart has a preferential place for the poor. Salvation came through poor people like Mary and Jesus of Nazareth. The gospel was proclaimed to the poor and Jesus identified with them (Mt. 25:35). Therefore the Church's option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a sociological, philosophical, cultural or political one. We Christians are called to have the same attitude as Christ (Phil. 2:5). The option for the poor is implicit in our Christological faith in that God who became poor for us so as to enrich us with his poverty (Benedict XVI at Aparecida). This is why Pope Francis wants "a poor Church and for the poor." (198)

The poor also have a lot to teach us and their sense of faith evangelizes us. We are to let ourselves be evangelized by them. We must look contemplatively towards the poor. We must value them in their culture, their way of being, their kindness, their faith, not as instruments of political ideology. We must closely accompany them on their path to liberation. Thus it will be possible for the poor to feel at home in the Church. This option for the poor must translate above all into privileged and preferential religious care towards them.

Without the preferential option for the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel could be misunderstood and become simply verbiage, like that to which the communication society has accustomed us. Nobody, no Christian, should say that they stay away from the poor because their life choices keep them busy with other business, professional, academic or even church matters. No one can think they are exempt from concern for the poor and social justice. Love of God and neighbor, zeal for justice and peace, the gospel sense of poverty and of the poor are required of everyone.

At this point, Francis fears that these words will only be the subject of a few comments with no practical impact. But he relies on the openness and good disposition of Christians to welcome this new proposal communally.

8. Popular piety as a theological locus

When a people has inculturated the Gospel in its culture, it always transmits the faith in a new and dynamic way. Thus the people are continuously evangelized and because of this, popular piety has great importance as an expression of the missionary activity of the People of God, always under the action of the Holy Spirit.

Popular piety, sometimes looked at with distrust, in fact reflects the thirst for God among the poor and the little ones, is able to manifest faith with generosity and sacrifice, and in Latin America is a precious treasure where the soul of Latin American peoples is manifest -- a spirituality and a popular mysticism embodied in the culture of the simple people. It expresses faith more symbolically than intellectually, emphasizes more the mode of belief in God (credere in Deum) than the contents of faith (credere Deum), but is a legitimate way of living the faith and feeling part of the Church.

To understand this reality of popular piety, one should approach it with the attitude of the Good Shepherd, with affectionate connaturality. Thus we will be able to understand the faith of the poor -- of the mother who prays the Rosary with her sick child, of a humble candle lit in the home to ask for the protection of Mary, of the loving gaze of the crucified Christ. They are not only a natural quest for divinity, they are expressions of a theological faith animated by the Holy Spirit. Expressions of popular faith have much to teach us. They are a real theological locus to which we must pay attention when we think about a new evangelization.

9. Poverty can't wait (202-208)

The structural causes of poverty must be addressed. Aid is not enough in urgent situations. Inequality is the root of social ills and the world's problems aren't solved without attacking the autonomy of the markets and financial speculation. Economic activity should be directed towards the dignity of persons and the common good and you shouldn't feel irked by talk of ethics, world solidarity, the dignity of the powerless, and a God who demands commitment to justice.

We can't rely on the unseen forces or the invisible hand of the market. Something more than economic growth is required, although that is presupposed -- decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes aimed at a better distribution of income, creation of sources of employment, and social promotion of the poor, are needed.

We need entrepreneurs who let them themselves be challenged by a broader meaning of life. We need politicians able to heal the deep roots of the evils of our world, politicians who really feel the pain of society, of the people, the life of the poor. Government leaders and financial powers that be must raise their eyes and broaden their horizons, ensure dignified work, education, and health care for all citizens. Why not go to God to inspire their plans and make them open not only to charity in micro-relationships (friendships, family, small groups) but also in social, economic and political macro-relationships, to the highest political vocation of seeking the common good?

Church communities who want to live peacefully without cooperating so that the poor might live with dignity, will end up mired in spiritual worldliness, even though it's concealed through religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty speeches, even though they are talking about social issues or criticizing the government...

The pope doesn't want to offend anybody but rather to help those who are enslaved by a selfish, individualistic, and indifferent mentality so that they can free themselves of these unworthy chains and attain a more humane, noble, and fruitful lifestyle and mindset that would bring dignity to their journey through this earth.

10. Under the action of the Risen One and his Spirit (275-280)

Lack of deep spirituality produces pessimism, mistrust and fatalism in many. Many believe that nothing can change, that it is useless to make an effort. But if we think that things won't change, remember that Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and death. Jesus Christ lives and has power. Christ, resurrected and glorious, is the deep source of our hope. His help will not fail us.

His resurrection carries a force that has permeated the world. There are outbreaks of resurrection where everything seemed dead; there are dark things, but good and values tend to come back to spring forth and spread. Each day, beauty is reborn in the world, which rises transformed through the storms of history.

Certainly, there are difficulties and experiences of failure. Everything doesn't happen as we might wish in evangelization, but we don't have to throw in the towel, dominated by chronic distrust and spiritual acedia. We are not to seek our own success or careerism since the gospel, which is the most beautiful thing the world has, will be buried under many excuses then.

By faith we are to believe that He marches victoriously through history in union with His own, that the Kingdom is present in history as a small seed, as yeast, as wheat that grows amid the chaff, and that it can always pleasantly surprise us. And all this because the Lord has already penetrated the hidden plot of the story and Jesus didn't rise in vain.

No effort is wasted, no act of love towards God is lost. Our mission isn't a business deal or project, or a humanitarian organization, or a successful show, fruit of our publicity. The Spirit works when, where, and as it likes. We must trust in the Spirit that comes to our aid. We must invoke it. It can heal all that weakens us. It plunges us into a sea where we sometimes even feel dizzy because we don't know what we'll find. But we must allow ourselves to be led by it, stop calculating and wanting to control everything, allow it to illuminate us, guide us, direct us, push us wherever it wants. It knows what is needed in every epoch and moment. That is being mysteriously fruitful.

In sum, the denunciation of unjust poverty as well as the option for the poor and for a poor Church and for the poor, spring necessarily from our cheerful faith in Christ and in his Spirit that fills the universe and renews the face of the Earth.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Christianity of Mary Magdalene

By Juan Jose Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
April 19, 2014

In her early 15th century work, The Book of the City of Ladies, the French writer Christine de Pizan noted the disparity between the negative image men have of women and what she knew about herself and other women. The men stated that women's behavior was full of every vice, a judgment that in Christine's opinion showed mean-spiritedness and lack of honesty. She, instead, after talking to many women of her time who told her their most intimate thoughts and studying the lives of prestigious women in the past, acknowledged their gift for words and a special aptitude for the study of law, philosophy, and government.

The situation at that time is repeated today in most religions which are patriarchally configured and have never gotten along well with women. The latter are not usually considered religious or moral agents, therefore they are put under the guidance of men who will lead them along the path of virtue. They are denied the right to freedom, it being assumed that they will make poor use of it. They are vetoed when the time comes to assume leadership responsibilities because it is understood that they are irresponsible by nature. They are excluded from sacred space as impure. They are silenced because they are believed to be chatterboxes and say unsuitable things. They are the object of every sort of violence -- moral, religious, symbolic, cultural, physical, etc...

However, religions could hardly have been born and survived without them. Without women it's possible that Christianity might not have emerged and perhaps would not have spread like it did. They accompanied its founder Jesus of Nazareth from the beginning in Galilee to the end on Golgotha. They traveled the towns and villages with him, preaching the Gospel (the Good News), helped him with their assets, and were part of his movement.

Feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza has shown in her book In Memory of Her that Jesus' first followers were Galilean women freed from all patriarchal dependency, economically autonomous, who identified themselves as women in solidarity with other women and who met to hold meals in common, experience healing, and reflect as a group.

Jesus' movement was an egalitarian collective of followers with no gender discrimination. He did not identify women with maternity. He opposed the Jewish laws that discriminated against them, such as the repudium and stoning, and he questioned the model of the patriarchal family. In him, the option for the poor and emancipation from patriarchal structures were harmoniously combined. Women were Jesus' friends, his right-hand people and disciples who were with him until the most dramatic dying moment of the crucifixion, when the male followers abandoned him.

In Jesus' movement, women regained the dignity, citizenship, moral authority and freedom they had been denied by both the Roman empire and the Jewish religion. They were recognized as religious and moral agents without any need for mediation or patriarchal dependency. One example is Mary Magdalene, a figure of myth, legend, and history, and an icon in the struggle for women's emancipation.

Both secular feminist movements and theologies from the perspective of gender appeal to her, whom they consider a vital link in building an egalitarian society that respects difference. I think Mary Magdalene is like the profile Virginia Woolf sketches of Ethel Smyth: "She is of the race of pioneers, of pathmakers. She has gone before and felled trees and blasted rocks and built bridges and thus made a way for those who come after her."

Women were the first people who experienced the resurrection, while the male disciples were incredulous at first. That's the experience that gave birth to the Christian Church. One more reason to state that without them, Christianity would not exist. Quite a few leaders of the communities founded by Paul of Tarsus were women, according to the principle that he himself established in the Letter to the Galatians: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female."

However, things soon changed. Peter, the apostles and their successors, the pope and the bishops, appropriated the keys to the kingdom, made off with the staff of office -- which had nothing to do with the shepherd's crook to herd the sheep, while they imposed on women veils, silence, and monastic and domestic cloister. This happened when the churches ceased to be house communities and became political institutions and The Church.

When will such great injustice towards women in Christianity be repaired? You would have to go back to basics, more in tune with the emancipation movements than with the Christian denominations of today. It is necessary to question the supremacy -- the primacy -- of Peter, which involves the concentration of power in one individual and prevents women's access to shared leadership responsibilities.

You have to recover the discipleship of Mary Magdalene, "Apostle to the Apostles" as Elisabeth Schüssler calls her in a pioneering article by the same title in feminist research on the Christian Testament, referring to the recognition she was given in Christian antiquity. It is necessary to revive, to refound Mary Magdalene's Christianity, inclusive of men and women, in continuity with the prophets and prophetesses of Israel and with the prophet Jesus of Nazareth, but not with the apostolic succession, which has a marked hierarchical-patriarchal accent.

A Christianity forgotten among the fenced in ruins of the city of Magdala, birthplace of Mary Magdalene, which I visited three years ago, seven kilometers from Capernaum, where Jesus of Nazareth resided during the time of his public activity. In the excavations that are taking place in Magdala, an important synagogue was discovered in 2009. There is the subversive memory of the original Christianity led by Jesus and Mary Magdalene, which was defeated by official Christianity.

But from that Christianity buried under those ruins is emerging a vigorous, defiant, and empowered liberating Christianity through the egalitarian movements that are emerging on the margins of the great Christian denominations, as the first movement of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the other women who accompanied him during the few months his public activity lasted, rose up on the margins.

It is necessary to inherit the moral and spiritual authority of Mary of Magdala as Jesus' friend, disciple, successor, and pioneer in equality. In short, Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, Christine de Pizan, Virginia Woolf, the feminist movements, the denominations' grassroots communities and feminist theology are moving in a similar direction. That's the way new alliances in the struggle against gender violence and the social exclusion of women, created from below and not from power, must go.

Juan José Tamayo is a member of the Comité Científico del Instituto Universitario de Estudios de Género of the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid and author of Cincuenta intelectuales para una conciencia crítica (Fragmenta, Barcelona, 2013) and Invitación a la utopía. Ensayo histórico para tiempos de crisis (Trotta, Madrid, 2012), which has a chapter devoted to feminist utopia.

Friday, April 18, 2014

"We must not allow an undemocratic model to consolidate in Europe": An interview with Teresa Forcades (III)

By Cristianisme i Justícia
April 16, 2014

Interview by Xavier Casanovas, Oscar Mateos, Santi Torres and Nani Vall-llossera.

Let's talk about Europe and the next European Parliament elections. Is Europe part of the problem or is it the solution?

It's obvious that Europe is part of the problem and also that it should be part of the solution. It's part of the problem because there's been a European Union that was built in a way that benefits or strengthens certain commercial interests. How can you explain that to set an interoccupational minimum wage at the European level requires the unanimity of all the countries but, on the other hand, to approve a multinational treaty that in fact invalidates parliamentary decisions, an act by the Commission is enough? It's a Europe that's more commercial than social. There's a decision making structure in Europe that systematically undercuts real democracy and sovereignty. Thus, it is not a social Europe.

They've made a monetary union that hasn't taken into account the analyses of the best economists who recommended at least a two-speed euro. It was shouted that with a single currency we were moving towards a sort of neocolonialism of the countries of southern Europe relative to the northern ones. That's why Europe is part of the problem.

And these austerity measures, which I directly call "criminal" -- because I like austerity and think it's a concept that deserves respect, I can't apply it to policies that cause 25% of the children in Catalonia to be malnourished. The change in the Spanish constitution that took place in 2011 and that allowed basic social rights to be cut back due to the debt incurred through the bailout, is a direct attack on democracy and everything that represents. That's why Europe is part of the problem.

And also the solution?

Yes, of course, because if Europe isn't part of the solution, we have no solution. For me the good thing about the idea of Europe, is that it was born as a horizontal relationship that could then be extendable or expandable. But since the Lisbon Treaty, we have built a pyramid structure, with a parliament subject to a complex and lengthy text that people are unaware of, don't understand and haven't voted for. Europe is part of the solution to the extent that it's possible and desirable to create partnerships at European level to change the rules of our coexistence. You also need to think about a model of peaceful democratic rupture at the European level. It's not feasible to think in terms of continuity with the current model nor simply reform. With the word "anticapitalism" we're showing the need and urgency to free political power from the yoke of economic power. Only then is democracy viable.

By voting, do we legitimize this situation, and does the EP [European Parliament] still have some role to play?

It's that if we don't vote, what do we do? The strategy within democracy to make a rupture is to vote for a rupture candidate. There are other mechanisms too -- holding a referendum or a massive petition to compel a thorough debate in the Parliament. Many possibilities are imaginable.

Is a leftist European alternative feasible? A "constituent process" at the European level?

There's movement, sure. Here in Barcelona for example, a few months ago we had Martin Shulz, the president of the EP, who came almost like a firefighter putting out fires. He didn't say he was anticapitalist but almost...(laughs) I interpreted it as an attempt to avoid the real alternative. I think they've realized in the European Parliament that the bipartisanship situation could change, because rupturist parties and movements are emerging in various countries. In Germany there's the Pirate Party, for example, and also in Spain there's some possibility of putting something similar together. There are many people who are willing to vote for these kinds of options and who perhaps wouldn't dare to do so in regional or national elections. They want to take advantage of the European elections to send a message: we're outraged and we don't trust the traditional parties.

But the alternative might come from the extreme right too. Marine Le Pen leads the polls in France. They also give a favorable vote to those parties in Austria, Norway, Holland...It seems that Euroscepticism is consolidating and will establish itself in the next election.

Yes, that's true. That's why I stress so much that the national issue not be separated from the social issue. It's the only antidote to the rise of nationalism in these times of social unrest. The national theme has roots, emotionality and literature that can become a catalyst. It's the atavistic and tribal "we". I believe in this reality of belonging. It's obvious that as a contemplative, I'm a community person, and I'm aware of the need to feel part of a group. I think it's a challenge for the left to be able to root the social justice and individual rights argument in communities that are organic, communities that actually deserve that name. I think this is the challenge for dealing with the rise of the extreme right.

In that sense, it seems we are at a crucial moment for this existing malaise in much of Europe to either pour out on the side of greater social justice or towards the entrenchment of small national entities that make the European project unfeasible.

It's true that the expression "historical moment" or "crucial moment" has been abused, but I would add to those two possibilities the one that a pyramid model, an antidemocratic model of Europe, ends up coming together. And I say "coming together" because fortunately it hasn't yet. It still has many cracks. If this political activation takes place, they might allow penetrating into the system and eventually dismantling that undemocratic structure. Certainly there's no guarantee whatsoever that the rupture will go towards a goal of more social justice, but we should attempt it and work for it. Yes, we're at a crucial point.

One theme that has to do with all this is fear. What are the strategies to lose fear in times such as we are experiencing?

I distinguish between two types of fear. One fear is that of losing the salary that feeds you or feeds your family. I have every respect for that fear. I don't think you should encourage people to fight alone because the only thing they'll get is becoming jobless. And the problem for many people is really tragic.

The other fear is the fear that if we organize collectively, the alternative will be worse. We must fight against that fear because it's the one that keeps us from mobilizing. Faced with this, we must remember what has happened historically. Help people to see what has happened in other historical processes of rupture, of revolution. See how those processes, although they haven't been lineal or easy, have mostly translated into advancement and improvement for all of society. I encourage those who are reading this to participate in a movement or platform of rupture. Or to create one.

And be informed too...

Exactly. Because fear is often associated with a dizziness of not knowing the cause and this not knowing paralyzes us. The process of becoming aware is a long process and we can't ask people to do it overnight. We have to facilitate it, respecting each one's process and rhythm to the utmost. And if in spite of the effort we go on hitting clay in structures that are harder and harder, we'll stop to rethink what we have to rethink and continue. It's a long term struggle, but for me it's a struggle that's meaningful in itself because what we're doing with the whole movement that's been initiated is to try to give a decent answer to a situation of injustice. How can we humanly experience a situation of injustice without standing up to it?

Going back to Galilee

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
April 20, 2014

Matthew 28:1-10

The gospels have included the recollection of three admirable women who, on the dawn of the Sabbath, approached the tomb where Jesus had been buried. They can't forget him. They still love him more than anyone. Meanwhile, the men have fled and perhaps remain hidden. The message they hear upon arriving is exceptionally important. The oldest gospel says, "You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here." It's a mistake to look for Jesus in the world of the dead. He is alive forever. We won't be able to find him where life has died.

We must not forget it. If we want to meet the risen Christ, full of life and creative strength, we are not to seek him in a dead religion, reduced to the external fulfillment of routine precepts and rituals, or in a burnt out faith sustained by cliches and worn out formulas, devoid of the living love for Jesus.

So, where can we find him? The women receive this charge: "Now go tell the disciples and Peter: He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him." Why must they go back to Galilee to see the Risen One? What is the deeper meaning within this invitation? What is it saying to us Christians today?

In Galilee, the Good News of God and the humanizing plan of the Father were heard for the first time in all their purity. If we don't go back to listen to them today with simple and open hearts, we will nourish ourselves with venerable doctrines but we won't know the joy of the Gospel of Jesus, capable of "resurrecting" our faith.

On the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus began calling his first followers to teach them to live his lifestyle and work with him on the great task of making life more humane. Today Jesus is still calling us. If we don't listen to his call and he doesn't "go before us", where will Christianity be heading?

Along the roads of Galilee, Jesus' first community was growing. His followers lived out a unique experience with him. His presence filled everything. He was the center. With him they learned to welcome, forgive, heal life, and awaken trust in the unfathomable love of God. If we don't put Jesus in the center of our communities as soon as possible, we will never experience his presence among us.

If we return to Galilee, the "invisible presence" of the risen Jesus will acquire human traits when we read the gospel stories, and his "silent presence" will regain a specific voice when we hear his words of encouragement.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Activating political identity": An interview with Teresa Forcades (II)

By Cristianisme i Justícia
April 9, 2014

Interview by Xavier Casanovas, Oscar Mateos, Santi Torres and Nani Vall-llossera.

Power is no longer in the hands of the conventional actors (the nation-state or the political parties) but something ethereal like "the markets", for example. Although political majorities can be generated, what's the margin to regain political space and power?

Certainly, real power isn't in the representatives of the people but neither is power something ethereal. Since the time that capitalism has been without a counter-power at the global level, three thousand international, bilateral, and multilateral treaties have been signed under the auspices of the WTO. Capitalism hyperregulates, strictly regulates but does so based on very specific interests that are contrary to the public interest. This situation causes a multinational to be able to sue a democratic government when the parliament legislates against the interests of the multinational. That's the main problem now. It's not an ethereal problem but one of political will. Without wanting to simplify it: we have an elephant in the room, and don't want to see the elephant. Well, first we ought to tackle the elephant, and when we've expelled it, keep an eye out so that new baby elephants don't grow too much. Currently treaties are being adopted globally that allow certain corporations have greater influence than the democratic powers of some countries.

In the case of Europe, you have some treaties that cancel or limit the decisionmaking powers of the parliaments, and moreover we have a Treaty of Lisbon that plays the role of "constitution" without having been voted on by the people and that in practice, limits what a parliament can do. So we have a subversion of democracy that's not ethereal but factual, with names. I would like to speak very clearly and explain the need to cancel all these treaties: there can be no agreement above a democratic decision. There can be no treaty that has more weight than the decisions of a parliament. This is nothing new and has been the object of political and economic analysis by economists such as Stiglitz as well as ours, like Arcadi Oliveres. But the political will doesn't exist because there's economic dependency of the political representatives with respect to these powers that be and the financing of the parties has a lot to do with this.

You often speak of capitalism as a "giant with feet of clay". What does that metaphor mean?

Yes, it's a metaphor drawn from the Bible (Dn. 2:31-35). When you look at it from below, its height, the gold, its power...you get dizzy, but when you look at its feet you realize it stands on clay. This situation can't be explained without talking about a certain amount of cultural alienation and repressive force. The same situation has been repeated throughout history. Authors such as Seneca, Cicero...philosophers, thinkers, people gifted with great intellectual substance criticized the idea of deification of the emperor, but most of the population passively accepted this fact that today seems absurd to us. In the human mind of intelligent people there are often mechanisms that block action for justice, because that which should be removed exercises reverential awe over them. We don't have that awe of our politicians today. So to whom do we pay that reverence? I think, just as Marxist analysis of alienation has denounced it, we have this awe or this respect (what Marx called "fetichism") for money and the economic system -- the economic system is untouchable. And who said that? Who made that economic system? We made it, didn't we? Then, if we're the ones who made it and we like it, let's keep it, but if we don't like it, of course we have to change it! Without thinking twice.

Liberation philosopher Enrique Dussel in his work Las metáforas teológicas de Karl Marx ("The theological metaphors of Karl Marx) states that Marx recovers the concept of "fetish" from the Bible, specifically from the Old Testament prophets. A fetish is something made by human hands (the word "fetish" comes from the Latin facere), something "made" that, forgetting that it's our product, we put on a pedestal, worship it, and let it require human sacrifices from us. No, don't do that! If you want to kneel down, do it before the living God who gives you life and who will never ask human sacrifices from you, but not before a fetish that's the fruit of your hands. Well, that criticism, which is the prophets' criticism, Marx states is what we ourselves have done with money and the capitalist economic system. Something we have made ourselves, we have put on a pedestal, we have knelt down and we're allowing it to demand human sacrifices of us. In Spain, we've changed the Constitution overnight without any kind of referendum to worship the fetish -- we've decreed that the debt and economic convergence criteria are above social necessities. A topsy-turvy world. The good news is that the economic system is "something built by human hands" and, therefore, if we overcome the fetishist dynamic, we would realize that it depends on us and not the reverse. The economic system can and should be changed when it excludes and harms the majority of the population.

To do this, you stress in your writings "regaining political identity." What is that?

From the beginning of history as we know it until now, all social change seeking greater social justice has been change from below. It's logical. If you have a system of social inequality with people below and people on top, why would those on top want to change anything? There might be individual cases of change of heart -- it happens sometimes -- people from a privileged environment who realize that "this doesn't work," but to become political agents of change, the people "from the top" must join agents acting from below. Rather than "regaining", I prefer to talk about "activating," because you can only regain what you've previously lost and you can never lose political identity -- it's intrinsic to the individual, it's what you are. Nor can anyone grant it to you but it's part of your being as a person, and for me it's linked more with the fact of "being in the image of God" than with citizenship. That's how I see it, but each one can say it in their own words, and speak of "individual dignity," for example. Except that through a mechanism of alienation, my political identity can remain inactive and so I stop being aware that I have it. Hence the importance of activating that identity, and that's what one notices happening in our country -- a process of activating political identity. The powers that be are realizing it and not taking long to respond. They're never still.

But even though, in fact, people are becoming active, the question is how to channel that. There's a malaise, an activation, but due to the crisis in intermediaries like the political parties and the big unions sometimes it has no outlet and goes no further. What tools do we have to give an outlet for this activation of the political person?

First it must be said that there are parties that are channels for this political activation towards a rupture. In Catalonia we have the case of the CUP (Candidaturas de Unidad Popular -- Popular Unity Candidacies). There are also small and not so small unions like Telefónica's COBAS union [telecommunication workers union of Spain], that are waging their struggle in an exemplary manner. There's movement. It's like the prophet Elijah when he says "I'm alone, I'm the only one who hasn't worshiped the gods of Baal," but when he gets active he meets seven thousand more who have remained faithful who help him make the revolution (see 1 Kings 19:14 vs. 1 Kings 19:18). Thus there are already people here who have been working a while and working well. I've seen the channeling through Procés Constituent not just as a movement in which I'm involved but as a kind of plan that can work.

I think Procés Constituent is a good tool that can be generalized to other contexts. It's a plan that instead of wanting to form a macro-structure or a political party that would seek to perpetuate itself in power, seeks to make possible a strategic alliance of rupture between very diverse social movements, already existing parties and individuals and collectives who up until now haven't felt called to political involvement. That alliances should be as broad as possible because if it isn't broad, it won't be able to have a majority. In our case, the political situation and Catalonia's desire for political independence have also been instrumental. That desire also allowed us to introduce the deepest and broadest possible discussion about the conditions of coexistence and political organization.

Therefore it can't be extrapolated to other parts of Spain.

In the rest of Spain, it must become specific to each place. You have to channel an existing malaise towards a viable political strategy. How? There's not one formula for everyone. We have to know where we are. In the Basque Country it will be different than in Andalusia or Galicia or Madrid.

In Catalonia we should take advantage of this momentum of struggle for independence, which on the other hand is a classic momentum. When there's an increase in social malaise, then that deviates towards nationalist demands. This has happened throughout history, and the most recent case we have is the German reunification. Tired of years of Communist regime, hearing them talk about "the people" without the real people having a voice or vote, the people of East Germany went into the street crying "Wir sind das folk" ("We are the people") and not the Politburo. Faced with this wave of demands that had the potential to create a real social state in East Germany, faced with the threat this meant towards the sleeping conscience and alienation of the capitalist part, Helmut Kohl was sufficiently skillful to steer this "Wir sind das folk" towards "Wir sind ein folk" ("we are one people"). Thus it was said that East Germany's cry was for reunification. And so a new argument began -- let's privatize everything because what matters is that "we go back to being all together." And here the price to pay was the privatization of all public properties in East Germany that after having been managed by a central committee had begun to be self-managed in an alternative way. Everything was interrupted to achieve that "finally we Germans can get back together again, heal our historical wounds, our centuries old humiliation, etc..."

Something like that could happen in Catalonia. There are people who are for independence and strengthening nationalism, leaving the social issue for later, but we, on the other hand, support strengthening a constitutional process that works clearly for a new economic, political, and social order. We can't allow the national issue and the social issue to be separated.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"The institutional Church shouldn't advertise itself": An interview with Teresa Forcades (I)

By Cristianisme i Justícia
April 2, 2014

Interview by Xavier Casanovas, Oscar Mateos, Santi Torres and Nani Vall-llossera.

Procés Constituent (Constituent Process) is one of various movements and platforms that have emerged in recent years in Spain, following the enormous upheaval that marked the 15M Movement and the so-called Spanish Revolution. It has a membership of about 50,000 people and dozens of local assemblies and sector working groups. Among its demands is the opening of a constitutional process in Catalonia that would culminate in the replacement of the current economic, institutional, and political model. Perhaps what causes surprise and breaks stereotypes the most is that one of its promoters wears the Benedictine habit and continually strews multiple biblical and theological references in her meetings and speeches. She is Teresa Forcades, a Benedictine nun from the Monastery of Sant Benet de Montserrat, who was characterized in an extensive report that the BBC devoted to her as intellectual, leftist, separatist, revolutionary and anti-capitalist. Teresa also has PhDs in Public Health from the University of Barcelona and Theology from the Faculty of Theology of Catalonia. Restless and searching, she currently combines her dedication to politics and Procés with teaching at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Humboldt in Berlin. She wrote for Cristianisme i Justícia Los crímenes de las grandes compañías farmaceúticas ("Crimes and Abuses of the Pharmaceutical Industry" -- no. 141, 2006). We have come to her to ask about her commitment and her view of the current political times.

The first question is obligatory. What has led a contemplative nun to political commitment and to leading a democratic radical protest movement like Procés Constituent?

I read the gospels for the first time at 15, and around that same time a Jesuit lent me my first theology book, Jesus Christ Liberator by Leonardo Boff. In my family and environment, little about Christianity had been explained to me. There was no animosity but the view was that it was an outdated structure of no interest. And, on the other hand, I suddenly found myself with people who were committed not only in theory but in practice, to tending to the poor, to those who were suffering the most. So the experience of God was presented to me not as something abstract, but identified with the relationship you have with the most vulnerable people in your community. Without implying that to serve the Gospel one has to be active in a party, for me it's obvious that the political dimension is an essential component of how I've understood the Gospel from the beginning. That said, my current political commitment stems from a proposal certain people from the social movements made to me to put my credibility at the service of a project for a peaceful and democratic rupture. After discerning with my community, I got in.

At the level of Christian communities, religious ones, and the institutional Church, the assistance aspect, especially at times of crisis, seems obvious. How do we regain or stir up the more clearly political aspect?

Under current circumstances, I wouldn't encourage anyone to get into politics, unless it's to promote a rupture. I don't think the intuition of Christians who would rather "give a pack of rice" than "tie themselves to a political party" is so bad, since the current framework aborts any attempt to change, however good and laudable your intentions may be. That's why from movements like Procés Constituent we are pushing a program of rupture -- we need to dismantle the current system and organize so that the necessary conditions for a dignified exercise of political action are achieved.

On the other hand, the Church at the hierarchical level -- and especially in the case of Spain -- is making policy, lots of policies...

But what policy? A policy of collusion with power and protecting the interests of the institutional Church itself, a policy of defending ideological interests that I believe are not gospel ones. The institutional Church shouldn't be protecting itself, it shouldn't advertise itself, it shouldn't be self-referential but must always be energized by the mission, and the mission is the kerygma -- proclaiming the Good News to the poor.

In fact, that theme is key in Pope Francis' recent Apostolic Exhortation Evangelium Gaudium. Could this new pontificate help the recovery of the political dimension of faith?

In a review I did of the Exhortation, I said that this pope is moving from dogma to kerygma. That doesn't mean he's forgetting the dogma, but that instead of thinking of faith formulations that encapsulate the message, he's focusing on the proclamation of the Good News. Kerygma comes from kerysso, and we find it in Luke 4 where they give Jesus the Isaiah reading in the synagogue and it says, "The Spirit of God rests upon me because I have come to proclaim Good News to the poor and proclaim liberty to the captives." This "proclaim" is kerysso, so kerygma is the focus of the Gospel. The Pope is doing nothing but moving from dogma to kerygma and from magisterium to mystagogy -- how to help, how to seduce, how to invite people to have their eyes open to the transcendent dimension in personal and community life.

So might we speak of a certain inevitability of the political dimension for believers?

Yes, in this sense of a link with poverty, of understanding that the heart itself of a God who is love cannot fail to be present where suffering is greatest. It's our job therefore to be concerned and find ways to organize ourselves collectively to protect the weak -- that should be the basis of the law. I who have an anarchist streak would prefer for everyone to do what they want. When? Always! Up to what limit? No limits! But reality is different, and when this liberty without law is the rule, abuse of power starts to appear. I'll try to explain it briefly...

Go ahead. We have time...

The ideal of human life seems to be that we would all have the same qualities, but that's precisely the capitalist ideal -- only when we have the same can we be the same. I don't believe that's the Christian ideal. The parable of the talents that still disconcerts us today explains that the Lord of the vineyard gives 10 to one, 5 to another, and 1 to the third one. We start out badly and we sense it will end badly. But the presupposition of the parable is that the fact of beginning with 10, 5, and 1 is intrinsic to God's plan, because what it means to love is demonstrated and experienced when there's this power differential, or rather when, being that there's this power differential, the relationship isn't one of abuse of power. It's exactly what God does with us -- being able to invade and trample on you, I retreat and give you space. That's fabulous. If that isn't love, then what is? That's the Jewish Kabbalists' notion of tsimtsum that Simone Weil and others wrote about in the 20th century, the act of creation as an act of retraction, like an act of saying "so that you can be, I'll make room for you." Or the Christian concept of perichoresis with respect to the Trinity -- giving space. When you leave a person space, that's loving that person. You give them air and if someone does that with you, it's because they love you.

One thing that worries many Christians is consistency in political mediation. For example, I might feel close to some rupturist parties but on the other hand, their positions on certain issues, their way of expressing themselves, violence, anticlericalism, or aversion to religion in society...stall or retract the willingness to get involved. In sum, I want to get involved but there's no party or mediation in which one can be consistent.

Well, here we get into the subject of realism. So either we put together something new in which we feel completely comfortable -- which is difficult -- or we support the lesser evil, a concept that's also present in church social doctrine and teaching. The lesser evil not as ideal but as a way of getting out of paralysis and inertia. This happens too in couples and in religious communities. You enter a community and can spend years asking yourself how, instead of proclaiming the gospel, we're focusing on little domestic arguments. Until one day you become aware of the commandment that's engraved on your ring -- "Love one another as I have loved you", Jesus' commandment. And you find out that you've come here to learn to love, and that you can do this even under adverse circumstances. We have come to bear witness to love in real circumstances, not in ideal circumstances.

But in this realism, can't we end up giving up too many things?

It's something that's easy to understand. My mind thinks "to be able to begin, I need A, B, C but since I don't have them, I'll wait," but you can spend your whole life like that. On the other hand, the gospel inspires something new -- although you don't have A, or B, or C, you can do it, in fact you can even do it from the Cross, without having anything or stripped of everything. In fact, we Christians say and believe that on the cross, Jesus performed the most important act and he didn't have anything.

I should run the risk of making mistakes, because it's getting wet that I make mistakes. Even if you have no guarantee, go ahead! Also, what does it mean to have guarantees? We must face increasingly the radical nature of human freedom. We must learn to make decisions constantly, and we don't make them in an ideal world but in the real world, where the things that are possible are not the ones you would like. You are the one who chooses -- getting involved and making changes within those conditions, or waiting forever.

There's also the issue of freedom of conscience and opinion, especially when, like you, one belongs to a religious order.

Every time they ask me about any subject, be it abortion, women in the Church, etc., I try to say what I think. I can't say what I don't believe. It's impossible. Whether I have the truth is another issue, and in fact, I never say I have the truth, because stating that would be ridiculous. But no one -- not the Church or Procés Constituent -- can force me to say something I don't believe. That was the argument with my bishop. He acknowledged that "obviously, I can't make you say something you don't believe." What the Church can do is force me to shut up. That hasn't happened yet but if it happens, I'll see what I'll do because my words aren't so essential for the world either! Making me be quiet I could accept, but making me say something I don't believe? No way. It's very obvious, but that's how it is. Without intellectual integrity, the gospel message can't move forward and the Church should be very aware of that and be the greatest defender of that personal integrity and freedom.

It's hard to hear this kind of freedom spoken about in our context.

Personal freedom is the only possible locus theologicus. Without freedom, God can't create anything. And notice that I'm not just talking about freedom of choice since that still isn't freedom. It's the Augustinian issue of free will -- I can choose between right and left and therefore I'm already free. No! To be free I must be able to choose -- it's obvious -- but the fact that you can choose is still not freedom. Freedom is choosing well. And what does choosing well mean? Choosing without fear. I have the ability to choose -- I can choose to do something or not do it -- but sometimes I choose not to do it because I'm afraid. So I exercise my power of choice, but I'm not being free. Or I can choose between two things and I choose one to look good. I'm exercising my power of choice but I'm not being free. I'm only free when I choose well. Deuteronomy explains it very clearly: You can choose life or death. To live loving is to choose life. If instead you choose to live hating, you die and kill. The existential tessitura of the individual is this. Freedom is real, but you are not a being created without an image -- you are made in the image of God that is foundational. If you go against goodness, you go against yourself. If you violate another's freedom, you die...You are only free when you act out of love, because you only stop acting out of love when you're afraid.

Fear grips us...

One is only fulfilled when one acts fearlessly. In fact, I think everyone has experienced it at some time -- when you aren't afraid, what you do is an act of love. We only stop doing acts of love towards whomever because of fear -- fear of being ridiculed, fear of losing a privilege, fear that they'll hurt us, fear of wasting time, big fears and sometimes small fears too. But the only reason we stop doing acts of love always and constantly is fear, and therefore, how can those acts be free? What we do out of fear are always acts of slavery -- the only free act is the act of love, which everyone makes concrete in their way. When you act freely, you accomplish an act of love, and that is precisely being free.

Finally, let's come back again to Pope Francis. [Spanish theologian Fr. José Ignacio] González Faus is always recommending that we tone down the papal euphoria.

I agree. That's my opinion too. Change comes from the bottom to the top, and that's how it will happen in the Church too. Someone will say, but what about John XXIII? Well, John XXIII allied himself with a great multitude that for years had been working for those changes to take place -- the nouvelle theologie people, the liturgical reform ones, the biblical reform ones...Throughout the whole 20th century, there were theologians and non-theologians, Catholic Action activists, groups, movements...who were working hard and against the tide to update the very outdated "old regime" Church structures. And in the end, after all this grassroots movement, it's true, there was a pope who agreed with them. But the power came from below.

However, does this grassroots movement currently exist? It seems rather that it's the Pope who's going against the tide...

There have been and are a growing series of grassroots movements that have created the conditions for this reform to be possible, after years of involution since Vatican II. The agent of change is in the grassroots. You can't trust in reform from above. For example, on the subject of women which is key for me. I've already heard the Pope say "no" to the women cardinals proposal, a decision I thought he would make since there aren't any theological arguments against it or any previous papal statements as in the case of priestly ordination. He had a petition on his table from European theologians which I also signed. In the past, there have been lay cardinals, because the cardinalate isn't joined to ordination. I thought that on this point a possibility of change, a possibility of access to a decisionmaking position in Catholic Church governance that wasn't linked to ordination, might open up.

But maybe the grassroots weren't prepared for those changes either?

Yes, it's true. In my community there are many sisters who can't hear talk of women's ordination. There's a lot of historical inertia, but we should go on taking steps to change those sensibilities. It's what we're trying to put into practice as well in the Procés Constituent -- if the base says no, it will be no, and there's a need to continue to work so that in the future change might be possible...

But something is moving however...

It's obvious the language has changed -- we'll see...I'm also very pleased with the synodal survey on the family since it puts on the table problems that up to now the bishops have preferred to deny. Now they have to know how many people in their diocese are in irregular unions and if there are children of homosexual couples who are asking to be baptized. A bishop should know all this, because the fact of knowing it in itself may put some bishops in touch with a reality that they had preferred to ignore. However, I would emphasize the issue of euphoria...It happens at the political level too. It happened with Chávez -- now we have the leader! But it's not in a change of leaders that deep change plays out, but in claiming a political role, a personal role, empowerment...That's the only thing that's revolutionary in the long haul. The other is changing one structure for another, one leader for another, and that doesn't help anything. We should, then, be careful about papolatry.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Nothing could stop him

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
April 13, 2014

Matthew 26:14-27:66

The execution of John the Baptist was not something casual. According to a widespread belief among the Jewish people, the fate that awaits the prophet is misunderstanding, rejection and, in many cases, death. Jesus probably counted on the possibility of a violent end very early on. Jesus was not a suicide nor was he seeking martyrdom. He never wanted suffering for himself or for anyone. He dedicated his life to fighting it in disease, injustice, marginalization and hopelessness. He was committed to "seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness" -- that more decent and happier world for all that his Father sought.

If he accepted persecution and martyrdom, it was because of faithfulness to this plan of God who doesn't want to see His sons and daughters suffer. Therefore, he doesn't run towards death, but neither does he hold back. He doesn't flee before the threats, nor does he modify or soften his message.

It would have been easy for him to avoid execution. He would just have to shut up and not insist on what could be irritating in the temple or the palace of the Roman prefect. He didn't do it. He followed his path. He would rather be executed than betray his conscience and be unfaithful to the plan of God, his Father.

He learned to live in a climate of uncertainty, conflicts and accusations. Day by day he reaffirmed his mission and continued proclaiming his message clearly. He dared to spread it not only in the far removed villages of Galilee, but in the dangerous environment of the temple. Nothing stopped him.

He will die faithful to the God in whom he has always trusted. He will continue to welcome everyone, including sinners and undesirables. If they end up rejecting him, he will die as an "excluded person" but with his death he will confirm what his whole life has been -- total trust in a God who doesn't reject or exclude anyone from His forgiveness.

He will go on seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, identifying with the poorest and most despised. If some day he is executed and tortured on the cross, reserved for slaves, he will die like the poorest and most despised one, but through his death he will seal forever his faith in a God who wants the salvation of human beings from all that enslaves them.

We followers of Jesus discover the ultimate Mystery of reality, incarnated in his love and extreme commitment to human beings. In the love of this crucified man is God himself, identified with all who suffer, crying out against every injustice and forgiving the executioners of all time. One can believe or not believe in this God, but it's not possible to make fun of Him. We Christians trust in Him. Nothing will stop His efforts to save His children.