Thursday, December 18, 2014

Another world is being born

By José Arregui (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
December 18, 2014

Christmas ornaments now shine in the streets and houses. The tree and the crèche are ready to receive Jesus, so he can be born. When I say Jesus, I don't mean some dogmas, whatever they may be. I'm talking about a life and a hope that renew the world. I'm naming what is already at the foundation of everything and the prophecy of what will fully be, if we make it so.

Let's make it so. What you believe doesn't matter but open your eyes and the deepest part of your being. May your eyes rejoice like those of a child when seeing the lights, the tree, and the crèche, and may they see everything through the light of the heart. May your heart, despite it all, keep on beating in peace, in the Peace that creates and transforms everything.

We certainly don't have it easy. The nth woman has been killed by chauvinist violence. More than three thousand immigrants have perished (murdered!) so far this year in the waters of the Mediterranean, and how many others have been "returned in a flash" to die without water or land, we know not. The nth climate summit has concluded without facing the planetary emergency, limiting itself to saving face with a vaporous agreement in stoppage time. Luis Alberto González has just been fired from his institute because the Diocese of Canarias has withdrawn his license to be a teacher of religion for having married his same-sex partner (it wouldn't be bad if Pope Francis would intervene in order to make very clear what this "welcoming homosexuals with mercy" means).

I'll continue. They tell us that the crisis is over but what's certain is that the rich are now much richer while the poor are much poorer and much more numerous, and through pure logic we may deduce that the crisis was invented by the rich -- now we know why. The 85 richest people in the world increase their fortunes by one million dollars a minute. Six of every ten young people in Spain are planning to emigrate to seek a future. They create jobs without increasing the total wages given out. Corruption has invaded the political system, which worships Mammon, and surely what's known up to now is just the tip of the iceberg that perhaps we'll never know but that exists and is sinking us. The financial powers appoint governments, rule the political parties, control the media, and this is called democracy and freedom. The United States and Europe are negotiating a treaty (TTIP) behind our backs so that the big companies can go on ruling the states at will.

And much more. The price of oil has gone down, not merely by chance but to sink Russia, Brazil, Venezuela, and Iran, dangerous rivals to the dominant system. The powerful appeal to human rights when it suits them and torture and kill without scruples whenever it's in their interest and they can (look at Guantanamo, look at the Middle East, look at Africa, "the sin of the West"). Ebola is no longer of interest because there are no longer any whites who are infected. And while all this is happening, they distract us with the mischief (or whatever) of "Little Nicholas"...Behold our world.

But no. There's another world that's warmer and more fraternal, and much more real. Another world is being proclaimed in the ruins of this world. Another world is being born each day in this world amid labor pains, from struggle and tenderness. A grandfather just told me, full of excitement, that a few days ago in a hospital in Madrid, his chubby, adorable grandson was born, a "gift of God" who has the whole family "over the moon." He has Down syndrome. Malala Yousafzai, a 17 year-old Pakistani young woman who was shot by the Taliban extremists for her advocacy for education for girls in her tortured country, has just received the Nobel Peace Prize. Countless social movements are lifting their voices and hands for this other world within this world, where all of us beings will be freer and more brotherly, and happier with less.

They are little lights lit in hearts and on trees. It's the true Christmas. It's the world Jesus saw coming, an unstoppable Advent. It's the world that he hoped for, that is, that he imagined and brought to birth from cradle to cross, from cross to resurrection. We can too. If we can look at these lights with the eyes of a child, if we let ourselves rejoice with a child's heart, then we can too. And even if we lose we will win, like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

First Communion in a house church

By María José Ruiz Jaramillo and Rev. Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Evangelizadoras de los Apóstoles Blog
December 14, 2014

"My name is Maria José. I'm 11 years old and I want to share with you the experience of this beautiful day. A month ago, my grandmother, Maria Elena Sierra, died. Her wish was for me to make my First Communion before the end of December so we've fulfilled it. My grandfather, Gerardo Jaramillo Gonzales, a married Catholic priest, was the one who baptized me. Because of falling in love with my grandmother, he was sidelined from his ministry in the Church -- suffering and grief that we have always borne in the family.

On this day of my First Communion, I am accompanied by my family -- my grandfather, my parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my little sister Maria Antonia, and two friends of my grandmother and the family.


In my family, we asked Olga Lucia to be the one to accompany us in a special way this day.

Olga Lucia left us brief thoughts on which to reflect: "Who are we? And what is our mission, our responsibility, in the world, in our families, in society, in the Church?"


"My grandfather spoke up to explain to us the importance of the commitment we are making when receiving the Eucharist: "...When we say 'This is My Body', 'This is My Blood', we are each one of us surrendering ourselves to the service of the Church, to the service of the Kingdom of God...making the presence of Christ real in the bread and the wine."

My grandfather, a married priest, and my mom give me Holy Communion. Olga Lucia explains why they are giving me Communion: "because Father Gerardo as a grandfather and priest, and Maria Elena, as a mom, have been the ones in the home who have nurtured the seeds of faith and Christian values in Maria José."


Then the rest of the attenders came to receive Communion. Olga Lucia was the last one to take Communion and we ended by giving thanks to God for his presence among us and we also invoked the presence of the Virgin Mary, Patroness of the Americas, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Full of the presence of the Spirit-Ruah, we were invited to go out into the world with joy to proclaim the Gospel!"

We consider Fr. Gerardo's speech a blessing from Heaven despite his health and memory loss. It was like listening to him in his better days.

NOTE: Additional photos of the occasion are available by clicking on the link to "Evangelizadoras de los Apostoles Blog" at the top of the article.

"Enough already!": Bishop Raul Vera's homily during the pilgrimage of priests and seminarians of the Diocese of Saltillo, 12/5/2014

This homily is available in Spanish on Redes Cristianas.


God is manifesting Himself in the voices of the victims

The Lord Jesus opened the eyes of those two blind men who trusted that he would make them see, and they saw (Cf.Mt.9:27-31). But he, who didn't want to appear to be a thaumaturge, i.e. a miracle worker, ordered them not to tell anyone because his main task was to perform the delightful miracle of the total transformation of men, inside and out, the whole person, body and soul, everything. He came not to transform a few people but to transform the whole human family. However, those people who had been blind spread what Jesus had done for them everywhere.

This is happening now. You can't keep Jesus from opening the eyes of his daughters and sons. Some would like us to remain blind, for people to believe that they have to resign themselves to death caused by injustice. They would like to see people resigned to suffering impunity, they would like corruption not to be pointed out. This is impossible because, first when Jesus, with his Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit the One God, created human beings, he created them in his image and likeness, which means that men and women are gifted with intelligence and will and, even when that intelligence and will was damaged by sin, Jesus came to forgive that sin and introduce divine life in man because God needs human beings to build the world according to His designs.

This is what those who are destroying the world, those who are tearing Mexico apart, don't want to understand: that we citizens are always going to demand to be part of the construction of the history of good and justice. At this moment the people's demands in face of the series of injustices they've been committing -- injustices the size of the one committed by the Mexican government in Iguala, Guerrero -- are unacceptable to them. Here in Saltillo and in Coahuila, we know of disappeared persons. Specifically people who come to the Fray Juan de Larios Diocesan Center for Human Rights who know about and denounce where the police are involved, when it's army personnel and when it's organized crime groups, but they're also aware of the complicity between public officials and criminals embedded within the government or organized as mafias through cartels in civil society. Which yields as a result impunity for the criminal actions of the forced disappearances of many citizens. And that's the responsibility of the Mexican government.

Ayotzinapa made manifest the criminal situations that have remained unpunished for years throughout the country

What has happened in Ayotzinapa is that everything has been committed in the spotlight. The police took these young students (normalistas) publicly and people know that the municipality with its principal authority, the mayor, the public safety body and all that is in the service of that municipality, is part of the Mexican government, because the municipality is one of the levels that, with the state and federal ones, form the three levels of government of Mexico. From the moment the mayor puts them under his control, he becomes responsible for their disappearance, and therefore it must be considered a state crime.

Now they're trying to make us think that the captors of the youth from Normal Rural were some paramilitaries under the command of Mayor Abarca, thus trying to tell us that they weren't municipal police but a particular armed group of the mayor. We know that in the municipalities and states of the Republic, the authorities are creating armed groups called "rapid reaction" or something similar. The state of Coahuila "officially" has GATES and during the past administration of the Saltillo municipality, GROMS was created, which are groups that serve as part of the state to maintain security. Both groups have been denounced as torturers and murderers, not just by migrants and prisoners but by citizens in general. We all understand that they're officially part of the state of Coahuila, so they're instruments of the government. That's it.

God is intervening in history and Our Most Holy Mother of Guadalupe said she would keep an eye on us. With the help of God who sustains His children and the light that our faith in the person of Jesus and the gospel he preached offers us, we can distinguish good from evil while we are still on this earth. This is what those who wish to remain in the dark with their crimes don't want to happen. That's why they want to silence us when we complain about their injustice, corruption and impunity. What solution will they offer? We've already heard it the last few days in the words of President Peña Nieto: even more repression.



They don't want to govern well? Let them get out!

Reading the prophet Isaiah, we tell them based on our faith, enough with their crimes, enough with their corruption, enough with their impunity, but we don't just tell them that. We proclaim with the gospel what God has said since ancient times:

"Surely, in a very little while, Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard, and the orchard be considered a forest! On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll; And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly shall again find joy in the Lord, the poorest rejoice in the Holy One of Israel." (Is 29:17-19).

Saint Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, says that the Holy Spirit comes to our aid so that we might know what to ask God for in our prayers (Cf. Rm 8:26-27). We wonder how the Holy Spirit comes to our aid. To make us understand based on the gospel of Jesus that for the good of all in society, peace should be established and that to maintain it, we must watch that justice prevails in human relationships but that if it's lacking, we should demand from public authority the strengthening of justice, since it's the job of every political body in the state to establish law and justice. We know that God has been enlightening human beings throughout history through the innumerable disciples of Christ and thousands of people who adhere to universal values that govern lasting human relationships between women and men in society so that each day we find a more perfect way to establish law and justice, through the collaboration of honest people who emerge from the historic organization of the people themselves and are delegated by them to be in front as their rulers.

This is what the bad rulers want -- for us not to see, for us to remain blind to their misdeeds, and that's why they say that when we complain about injustice, we're destabilizing the country, we're seeking to overthrow the government. No, sir, what these people want is to be governed well and if they don't want to govern well, then let them get out.

The unexpected surprise of God's actions in history

Let's look ahead in the Isaiah text that was proclaimed a moment ago:

"For the tyrant shall be no more, the scoffer shall cease to be; all who are ready for evil shall be cut off, those who condemn with a mere word, who ensnare the defender at the gate, and leave the just with an empty claim." (Is. 29:20-21).

To understand the meaning of this text, important for shedding light on our Christian actions against the serious situation being experienced by Mexico, I refer to the end of the text of the prophet Isaiah proclaimed earlier, and Jesus' words, first to his disciples during the Last Supper and then before Pontius Pilate during the trial through which the Roman procurator sentenced him to death.

Isaiah says: "Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding, those who find fault shall receive instruction." (Is 29:24) In this text, God is proclaiming through His prophet that what leads to reconciliation both for the one who causes injustice as well as the one who is bothered by it, is the truth. The same truth that breaks the vicious cycle of impunity that leads to the multiplying of the tyrant's crimes. Truth leads us out of the aberrations through which the tyrant is driving society, and forces him to accept responsibility for his crimes. Truth that breaks with impunity, returns tranquility to the society that had become discontented with the dictatorship of the tyrant.

Jesus, before his disciples, prayed for them to his Father in Heaven like this: "Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth...I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth." (Jn 17:17,19) In this sense, consecration means surrendering oneself totally for the truth. Jesus died for the truth, as if he had said "I'm consecrating myself in sacrifice for the truth." Before Pilate, when the latter insisted on asking if he really was a king, Jesus answered, "You say I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." Pontius Pilate was far from the truth because he wasn't interested in the welfare of those people since the people he was supposed to rule in the name of his friends, of his fellow tyrants, were ones he was primarily interested in exploiting, squeezing, and crushing. So to Jesus' answer, Pilate asks Jesus, "What is truth?" (Cfr. Jn. 18:32-38) Jesus consecrated his life for truth. He was being led to the sacrifice because he never denied the truth the Father had ordered him to teach and we his disciples, because of his sacrifice, are consecrated to defend and spread the truth he gave us in his gospel. To that end, during Jesus' last supper with his disciples, he pleaded with his Father, referring to them, "I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.."

Henceforth, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid, St. Paul says, so that we might know the truth about what a nation organized in justice and law should be, what a people who lives with dignity should be, an authentic way of governing, and a just economic system. That is, the true way of organizing the world. This is what the Gospel teaches us, this is what God teaches us, and this truth cannot be enclosed in the churches. We can't just remain in the truth Jesus taught us. We must proclaim it, we have to organize ourselves to live it.

When Isaiah says that those who err shall acquire understanding, what's the prophet proclaiming? Undoubtedly these words invite us to ask ourselves how we are going to cancel out the destructive power the corrupt have. The first answer that jumps out is this: through justice. Unfortunately they have power that is nefarious, with the multiplication of injustice. How will we bind up and destroy the lies they tell? Through the truth that comes out of our people, through our people's denunciations that ought to be heard in court, where there should be judges and ministers who work honestly and are fair. So, how important it is at this time for the very cynical injustice and corruption that we are witnessing to be denounced! It's impressive that this started through some young people so we can't leave them alone. We can't forget the many young people who are hoping for a better future. Moreover, are we going to let the children of our country live in a nation gone to dust and at the mercy of a few corrupt people? How are we going to leave these creatures alone? God calls us through the most defenseless people to restore this nation.

Mary of Guadalupe, a sign of hope and challenge

Mary of Guadalupe also came to us to proclaim the gospel of love and justice, she came to us to proclaim the gospel of truth, and she asked Saint Juan Diego for decisive collaboration with her. She did not admit any excuses from him; she ordered him to return to the bishop's house to obtain for her what she had asked -- to have a little house where she could hear our prayers, our afflictions and lamentations -- so she ordered him to put "every effort" into it. Nor does Mary admit any cowardice or laziness from us today, much less indolence. She doesn't want pastors who flee and hide in the face of the wolves or worse still, who associate with the wolves by complicit silence before the destruction of their people.

From the outset, we have placed the pastoral plan of our diocese in Mary of Guadalupe, because through it we seek to bring to Christian maturity first ourselves as shepherds of the people that we are, then each and every one of our faithful so that, by maturing in faith as disciples of Christ, with many people of good will who belong to other denominations and other faiths or simply are not attached to any creed, we might be the ones who truly dictate what this country should be, so that all injustice, all corruption and impunity might be overcome through a new organization of our country, founded on the strength of justice and law, and on the gentle impulse of love and compassion for our sisters and brothers who are suffering.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Cyprien Melibi: "The Gospel is a message that is absolutely adaptable to all cultures"

by Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
December 7, 2014

Cyprien Melibi is an African theologian who has been living in Spain a long time and working for the recognition of the way of doing Church from Africa that is unknown or viewed very prejudicially. Now he has published Grito africano ["African cry"] through which "we are trying to make known a different Africa, not the one of poverty, death and ebola" but "the one of hope and joy -- the positive Africa."


The Africa that is crying out, like your book, Grito africano por el derecho a existir, published by La Colección Diáspora, Religious Studies. Tell us a bit: What cry?"

First I want to share the enthusiasm and joy I feel because when I finished writing the book in June, I concluded by saying, "Africa, hope intact." And in Burkina Fasso we have just witnessed a resolution of a political crisis through a conensus of citizens, of forces, of the nation without resorting to any outside experts and what I'm suggesting in this book is exactly that -- that we are heading towards the African way of assuming its responsibilities. So first of all, before beginning this "cry," I want to start from that because it's something unprecedented in history -- that the people in the street oust a president, the military regains power and reacts peacefully and passes it on to a civilian.

Tell us about the book.

The book is a cry. Who's crying? It's the African who is suffering, the African who has been exploited for many centuries -- first he was subjected to slavery, then to colonization, then to post-colonization. It's the African who dreams of living well, being well, finding opportunities in his country and being able to travel normally to other countries. It's an African who is young for the most part but without a future, who is crying and he's crying out of hope and despair, he's crying out of pain and suffering. And where does this cry come from? It's a cry from the South, and you have to understand clearly that the problem of Africa is the problem of knowing how to empathize with us, that we're fed up with speeches, with being told how to do things when what we need is people who will put themselves in our place and try to understand.

Becoming African to build that Africa and also that theology of the Church in Africa, which has the ability and the role of building development and the Kingdom. What is this theology that's crying out in Africa, in which you've had theologian John Marcela as a teacher?

I think theology must basically be liberation theology because that way it can add to the freedom movement that is essential for every people. I know of no people in history that has freed itself without being committed. For me, it's key that theology participate in this liberation movement. That being said, I think that theology and religion in general must Africanize Christianity.

In Africa or all over the world?

No, no. In the context of Africa, because I think the Gospel is a message that's absolutely adaptable to all cultures, and the problem we've had for a long time is that we've tried to Christianize Africa and not Africanize Christianity...They're two very different things.

Can we talk about one Africa? Because we're talking about Africa as if it were one country but it's a heavily populated continent with many differences.

Yes, there are many cultural differences and normally one should speak of African cultures because there are various very distinct cultures. But in recent history we can observe that Sub-Saharan Africa has had common elements throughout its history and those elements have been common from slavery to post-colonization. This gives rise to a social context where the issues can be treated in almost the same manner. So when we're talking about the social problems in Africa, in this part of the continent almost the same realities are observed. I also want to mention that in Africa currently (it's one of the things I wanted to underscore in this book) there's a rise in awareness of being African and assuming our responsibilities. And in many environments -- intellectual, political and economic -- this awareness is important to emphasize that on this continent there are people who want to work for us to get out of this situation.

That's why when we're talking about liberation in Africa, whether at the political, economic, or theological level, there are three keys or important levels. I express the first one in the book the following way: "Take your hands off Africa." It's important for the people who are oppressing Africa to let us solve our problems, that they let us benefit from our resources. The second element or key is that it's impossible to make someone happy despite themselves. I can't come and say to you "Jesus [Bastante], this is what you need to be happy" and for it to be something in which you don't participate...That's one of the problems that has led us to this situation -- many things are conceived with a Western mentality and it's thought they should be applied intact in Africa. The third and final level I express with an African proverb that says, "And what if the fool got smart?", that is, that our homeland isn't stupid. They've done so many things to us -- they've exploited us, they're doing so many things to us, that we ought to become aware, to say this has to stop. Those are the three levels or keys for Africa.

On the book flap you've written: "We Christians of Africa don't want our Church to be complicit or collaborating with the executioners -- white or black -- of the African people, nor do we want a Christianity that is the opiate of the African people. We want our Church to assume its noble role of liberating the inner energy of the African." Is the African Church complicit?

The Church in Africa has mainly had two periods -- the mission period -- evangelization through the Europeans who gave what they had (I admire those people who went as if it were an adventure without knowing what would happen to them, some died of malaria, but they went generously to transmit European 19th century Christianity) and they transmitted it their way, with many positive things and negative ones too... I think the time to criticize this has passed), and the current period, since 1969 when Pope Paul VI came to Africa to tell Africans "you are now your own missionaries." From then on, the African Church entered a new phase -- a phase that belongs to us. And here I must lament that the African Church continues to be under the tutelage of the Western Church, and I don't know why it doesn't want to grow up, it doesn't want to assume its responsibility.

Now we have a Pope who isn't from Europe, who's from the South. Just as there's been a change here, do you notice this opportunity, this "spring" we were talking about in Africa?

You remember that a year ago when the Pope was being elected, I came through here and we were analyzing and talking about if this one was the Pope who was to come to Africa? I've come from Africa and just observed it and it's as if Francis' "spring" never got there because over there you don't experience what's currently happening in Rome, the fright the Pope is giving some of the more powerful sectors. And I don't understand why this is and I'm concerned because it isn't noted, you can't perceive it in Africa. And it's because the African Church has a very powerful ecclesial dynamism since bishops or pastors are immersed in their ministry, with full churches, and I don't know if they even have time to read the Pope's messages.

The Church in various African countries is having an important influence -- not just the missionaries but also the Church itself in its configuration, like in Southern Sudan, in Nigeria, where they are suffering a lot but go on working with their own identity...Is there a need for a papal trip or do you think we're talking about something else?

I've said it from the beginning -- this Pope has to really take an interest. Because John Paul II left us a lot but this Pope with his personal sensitivity and charisma, I think he would gain by going to Africa to be able to see the situation, not just from Rome. I'm sure that if Pope Francis were to organize a trip to Africa with his style, we would gain a lot. I participated in Benedict XVI's 2009 trip to Cameroon. He came in the "popemobile" and traveled a week earlier in a special private plane, etc...If Francis were to get rid of those things to come be in communion with the life of these people, I think the whole Church would gain a lot, and we're waiting for him over there -- I'm expecting much from this Pope and I'm praying for him a lot. I wish him a fruitful ministry in the Holy See. The African Church is crying here, hoping for a Good Samaritan to come down from Jerusalem to Jericho to learn about the one who's on the side of the road after having been attacked by bandits, who are the same ones as always, the same ones who are always exploiting Africa.

Let's hope that this "African cry" you talk about in your book will be a reality that can also be cried out by other voices.

Yes, it's what I think is important -- that the issue of Africa is an issue of shared responsibility by Africans and the rest of the world. We can't say that now Africa has to solve it -- Africans by themselves -- just as we also can't say that the colonizers have to solve it alone. It's an issue of shared responsibility. I want to end by quoting Frantz Fanon, one of the great negritude thinkers, who said "Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it." This generation of Africans and the rest of the world must understand the Africa mission from every level and competency and how to fulfill it or betray it. And history will tell us how we've performed.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Smoothing the way to Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
December 14, 2014

John 1:6-8,19-28

"There is one among you whom you do not recognize." John the Baptist utters these words referring to Jesus who is already moving among those who are approaching the Jordan to be baptized, although he still hasn't manifested himself. His whole concern is precisely to "smooth the way" so that those people might believe in him. That's how the first Christian generations presented the figure of John the Baptist.

But John the Baptist's words are written in such a way that, read by those of us who call ourselves Christian today, they raise disturbing questions in us. Jesus is among us but do we really know him? Do we agree with him? Do we follow him closely?

It's true that in the Church we are always talking about Jesus. In theory, nothing is more important to us. But then we turn so much around our ideas, projects and activities that Jesus quite often remains in the background. We ourselves are the ones who, without realizing it, "obscure" him by our own starring roles.

Perhaps the greatest misfortune of Christianity is that there are so many men and women who call themselves "Christian" in whose hearts Jesus is absent. They don't know him. They don't resonate with him. He doesn't attract or seduce them. Jesus is an inert and lifeless figure. He is mute. He doesn't say anything special to them that gives hope to their lives. Their existence isn't marked by Jesus.

This Church urgently needs "witnesses" to Jesus, believers who look more like him, Christians who, through their way of being and living, ease the path to believing in Christ. We need witnesses who talk about God as he did, who communicate His message of compassion as he did, who spread trust in the Father as he did.

Of what use are our catechesis and sermons if they don't lead to knowing, loving, and following Jesus with more faith and joy? What are our Eucharists if they don't help people be in a more living communion with Jesus, with his plan and his delivery up on the Cross for all? In the Church, no one is "the Light" but we can all radiate it through our lives. No one is "the Word of God" but we can all be voices that invite and encourage others to focus Christianity on Jesus.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"My church is the world": An interview with Padre Beto

By Eder Fonseca (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Panorama Mercantil
December 3, 2014

Padre Beto (Roberto Francisco Daniel), native of Bauru, was born in 1965. He was trained in radio broadcasting (Senac-SP), in law at the Instituição Toledo in Ensino (Bauru), in history at the Universidade do Sagrado Coração (Bauru) and in theology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany. He worked in priestly ministry in the Diocese of Bauru for 14 years and in April 2013 was excommunicated by the diocese for having freely reflected on the Church's sexual morality. He taught high school and prep school philosophy classes at D'Incao and Infinito schools (Bauru). For five years, he was host of the "Conexão 96" program on 96 FM and for nine years he was a columnist for Jornal da Cidade (Bauru), he was host of "Mensagem do Dia" on 94 FM and host of "Tema Livre" on 94 FM (second Wednesdays from 11 PM to 1 AM). He is the author of several books including two in German, Erinnerung als ethisches Projekt and Befreiungstheologie im Film, and his latest published book is the controversial Jesus e a sexualidade – Revelações da Bíblia que você nunca viu ["Jesus and sexuality - Revelations of the Bible that you have never seen']. For the portal Panorama Mercantil, he says, "I no longer believe that the Church is a beneficial path for humanity. Churches create division; they create prejudice and exclusion."

Padre Beto, whenever we begin an interview, we always ask about the early life of our interviewees. How was your early life before getting into the priesthood?

I was born in Bauru, in a lower middle class and essentially Catholic home. As long as I can remember, my parents have always been involved in a parish and I always saw them concerned with helping people with difficulties. My parents raised me with a lot of freedom and always encouraged me to commit myself to others and to the life of society. I can't say my parents were pious traditionalists. On the contrary, they were very critical of the Catholic Church. I remember my father as an active layman used to refer to priests as "the black capes," with a certain irony and good humor. Even as a teenager, I was active in the youth ministry of my diocese and, even at the end of the military dictatorship, relating the message of Jesus Christ to citizenship, democracy, political and economic power. I can say that I learned to do politics in the Christian community. After all, I was living in a Church of the 70s and 80s that reflected liberation theology and had as examples men such as Dom Oscar Romero, Dom Arns, Pedro Casaldáliga, Dom Mauro Morelli and Dom Luciano Mendes de Almeida. Also being a young Christian at that time was not being a pious young man worried about being chaste as is common today. We were concerned with the well-being of everyone, but when it came to relationships and sexuality, we all lived very freely. I entered seminary at 27, but I didn't enter as a virgin. I had girlfriends, various relationship experiences and different sexual experiences that have taught me a lot about human life. I'm also grateful for that part of my life. Before entering seminary, I finished two college courses -- Law and a degree in History. Anyway, my life before seminary was very active, with a lot of freedom of thought and action.

In your History course, you were very influenced by Karl Marx. How was your mind working in those days, knowing that the previous popes condemned Marxism?

First, it's necessary to understand that in the History course, thanks to Marx, we learned to see historical events within a political and economic context. Seeing history this way, without falling into determinism, didn't conflict with what we were discussing within the Christian community, as this was much influenced by liberation theology. We did see Pope John Paul II as a conservative who was retreating from the whole process initiated by the Second Vatican Council. I was fully aware that the Church was a human institution that had conservative and progressive forces. But, as I lived in Brazil, I felt reassured by the CNBB (National Conference of Bishops of Brazil) we had at the time. I wasn't influenced by Marx to the point of becoming a Communist, I never believed in the Socialist models or in Marx's vision of the future. But through Marx, I learned that nothing is fragmented, the mode of production influences our mentality, and that we should be agents of our history to give meaning to our passage through this existence.

You've said you had several opportunities to not become a priest, but you've reiterated that this is your vocation. When your vocation was stronger, did you know you might have a problem because of your worldview?

The discovery of my vocation was a process. I never dreamed of a particular life plan, in the sense of having my profession, my family, my children, my retirement and my grave. I was led from early on to think about society, about the well-being of all, about politics and economics. The ongoing discovery of Jesus Christ led me more and more to think of my life as integrated into a whole. Added to this I had an experience of death in the family, which made me reflect on our very ephemeral passage through this existence. And the question I always asked myself was what I would like to see when looking back on my history at the time of my death. During my whole discernment, I made retreats at ITAICI [Centro de Espiritualidade Inaciana Vila Kostka Itaici] with the Jesuits, which helped me a lot in my self-discovery. I got to a certain point where I didn't fit in a profession anymore, whether being a professor or a legal professional, but the priesthood seemed a way through which I could help people individually, socially, and even unite all this with the message of Jesus Christ. It seems a joke, but the final "push" towards a radical decision for the priesthood came through a film I watched five times at the cinema, "Dead Poets Society".

Pope Francis says celibacy is a gift that the Holy Spirit gave the Church. For you, is celibacy a gift the Holy Spirit has given the Church?

I wouldn't say celibacy is a gift of the Holy Spirit. I can't see sexuality as a sin. On the contrary, I see it as a way to liberation from many neuroses. I remember when I was a priest and celebrated Mass for a group from the Youth Ministry of my diocese. In that Mass, we were reflecting about purity and I made it clear to the young people that purity has nothing to do with chastity. On the contrary, a good sexual relationship can purify us. Purity is transparency, honesty in any human relationship. I think a gift of the Holy Spirit is the intelligence to understand oneself, thus being able to choose the lifestyle I should assume to be a person in harmony with myself and others. Sexual life can't be demonized or standardized. It's an individual construct and depends on my awareness about my sexual orientation and lifestyle through which I can quietly fulfill myself as a human being.

Do you believe Pope Francis is in fact a reformer?

I think that as a good Jesuit, Pope Francis understands that the Catholic Church needs changes. However, he knows he can't make them quickly. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI created a clergy and a huge group of conservative, moralistic faithful during their papacies. As the institution is, the Pope must act carefully and slowly. One sees Pope Francis' efforts to have personal attitudes that make the clergy and the faithful reflect better, such as simplicity, a more political discourse and a personal approach to excluded people. Aside from these personal attitudes, I don't believe the Pope will achieve significant changes, as shown by the Synod of Bishops on the Family. What Pope Francis can do is prepare the ground for the next Pope to come along and carry out reforms that bring the institution closer in practice to the life of Jesus Christ.

Why don't you like the Catholic Church's assistentialist policy?

Because assistentialism only serves for the state to sit back and not return our paid taxes in benefits for the population and at the same time it politically anesthetizes the consciences of the faithful. If a parish, for example, maintains a day care center, it ends up performing the role of the state (which is being paid by all of us to build and maintain day care centers in Brazil) and makes the faithful collaborate twice towards assistance to the poorest. The faithful have paid their taxes and, at the same time, they're working with the church to maintain the day care center. The church should be an ethical force in society, raising the consciousness of its faithful about health policy, education, employment, retirement, etc., as it should also put pressure on governments for everyone's basic needs to be met. The Church is against abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, but the church never goes head to head with the state demanding an effective health care system, education that truly gives a future to young people, a good retirement for our seniors, or better wages for our police. Anyway, assistentialism is a hidden way of creating a parish island for ourselves and not dealing with the real issues that affect the children of God.

In your interviews, you always say you like the book A cama na varanda ["The bed on the porch"] by psychoanalyst Regina Navarro Lins. In this book, apart from other things, she talks about polyamory. What is your view on polyamory?

I've been able to hear the confessions of the faithful for 15 years. I can say that priests hear two main themes in confessions basically -- sexuality and relationships. Listening to people for so long, I can also say that simultaneous love for more than one person is a fact of human life. Hardly anyone, married or not, will love only one person in their life. Given this fact, I believe that the best way to live out these relationships would be specifying them through polyamory. If the love between two people enables us to develop our sensitivity and our ability to be more human, polyamory is a richer path to this development and perhaps closer to the message of Jesus Christ. Christ, in the Gospels, doesn't consider the traditional family we have today important, but the quality of the relationships we cultivate. Polyamory might be the healthiest way to live out these feelings. Many Christian couples are living a great hypocrisy. They hide their feelings and maintain the traditional argument about valuing the family institution. This is very sad, because behind a "politically perfect" facade hides a meaningless life and an inability to deal with relationships.

You were excommunicated by the Catholic Church in April 2013 for supporting homosexuals. How did that happen?

I've always been very open with all Christians, whether priests or laypeople. I believe the Church matures when we all reflect together. When those at the top decide and the majority obeys, we aren't living out the love Jesus preached and we are infantilizing the majority of the faithful. Since coming back to Brazil (2001), I've been reflecting openly on social networks about various topics around the Church's sexual morality (including homosexuality), but I've always made it clear that these were simple personal reflections and have never omitted official Church morality. My way of being never bothered my previous bishops. But in April 2013, the leadership of the Bauru Diocese deemed that these actions were unacceptable. Thus on April 23rd, my bishop demanded that I withdraw all materials from the social networks and ask forgiveness. Even though I made it clear to him that I had no reason to apologize, the bishop gave me until the April 29th deadline to think about it. Irrespective of the time, on April 24th, the bishop was already being interviewed about the ultimatum on a local television network. I thought a lot about it and decided to resign from priestly ministry since I could no longer exercise freedom of thought and freedom of expression in the Church.

At 10 a.m. on April 29th, I went to deliver my letter of resignation. At the diocesan curia, the bishop received me cordially and led me without any warning at all into a room. There, I was surprised to see a table made up of five priests from the council of presbyters and a stranger who was sitting at the head of the table. I was then led to an empty chair and the bishop withdrew. After a few seconds, I realized I was in a courtroom and sitting in the defendant's chair. Realizing this, I left the room after an argument and the fury of the stranger who was the investigating judge appointed by the Bishop of Bauru. The same morning, the Diocese of Bauru publicly declared my excommunication. Interestingly, the investigating judge, who we later found out was Father Tiago Wenceslau from the Campo Limpo Diocese, seeing the repercussions of the case, quickly spoke out, saying that I had not been excommunicated for defending gays, but for disobedience to my superiors. The Church never loses its covert ways of escaping clashes. Now, the disobedience was due to the content posted on social networks which pertained to the defense of homosexuals. If I had been talking about the virginity of Our Lady, my superiors, of course, would not have been bothered.

Recently, the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church backed down on acceptance of homosexuals by the Church. How does the lobby work specifically for that matter?

Frankly, I don't know how that kind of lobby works. What I think is more serious in the Church is the lack of transparency in its structure. As well as power still being in the hands of the clergy -- very old men -- thus leaving laypeople, women and young people simply as faithful who must follow blindly what's established. This type of structure is no longer useful for the 21st century. It's precisely the lack of transparency and the concentration of power in the Church that enables the formation of lobbies that act in the so-called wings of Church.

What's the main message you want to pass on to the reader who will peruse your latest book "Jesus e a Sexualidade – Revelações da Bíblia que você nunca viu"?

I would say that the book has two big messages. The first is that the current sexual morality of the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations does more harm than good. This sexual morality has no basis in Scripture, much less in Jesus Christ. It's the fruit of philosophical lines that are far from the biblical universe and the message of Jesus. Being based on the philosophies of Antiquity and not on the practice of universal love preached in the Gospels, Christian morality closes its eyes to the knowledge we have today of genetics, sexuality, human structure. The second big message is that human sexuality is something very good. The experience of sexuality can only be within the message of Jesus -- in the end, love (agape) and love (eros) aren't opposed but complement each other in a wonderful way. God made us sexual beings and it isn't active sexuality that leads us away from God. What separates us from God is lack of love in any dimension of human life.

Do you expect to return to pursuing your activities in the Church at some point?

No. I no longer believe that the Church is a beneficial path for humanity. Churches create division; they create prejudice and exclusion. Jesus sees humanity as our family. The latter should be united in what we have in common, the simple fact of being human. So, I have no intention of going back to being a priest in the Catholic Church, much less create a church. Brazil is a great example of how churches don't solve our problems and don't create the Kingdom of God. Brazil is full of churches and we officially declare ourselves a Christian country. Now, how can a Christian country be the seventh power in the world and leave the majority excluded from that reality? How can a Christian country have a very high crime rate, poor education for the majority, contempt for retirees, racism and homophobia and other very clearly anti-Christian problems? Brazil has churches, Brazilians praise God, but we are not a Christian country. I prefer to continue my mission in the world. My church is the world and my family, humanity.

Eder Fonseca is a journalist. He founded and is currently executive director of Panorama Mercantil, one of the main interview portals in Brazil.

Monday, December 8, 2014

"We need to go back to the Bible and to the riches of Christian tradition for a fuller understanding of the living God": A special interview with Elizabeth Johnson

By Patricia Fachin (English translation by Rebel Girl)
IHU-Unisinos (em português)
November 23, 2014

"The bishops need to study the history of theology more closely." This is how theologian Elizabeth Johnson begins her answer to the American bishops' critique of her book, Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011).

According to the American bishops, the work, by criticizing modern theism, criticizes key points of Catholic theology, questioning, for example, the traditional view that God is at the top of the pyramid of Being. The book also receives criticism for being presented to the general public as "a teaching tool for college students" who have an interest in Catholic theology. The bishops argue that some of the arguments presented by the theologian don't represent the Church's thinking.

In the following interview, granted to IHU On-Line by e-mail, Elizabeth Johnson argues that her book is based on the "insight" that "theology took a wrong step in the 17th century (...) by trying to respond to attacks by European Enlightenment thinkers against the existence of God," as shown in Jesuit Michael Buckley's book At the Origins of Modern Atheism.

The theologian clarifies that "rather than appealing to its own primary materials, namely Christology that centers on the person and teaching of Jesus Christ as well as on religious experience with its focus on personal testimony motivated by the Holy Spirit, theology abandoned its distinctive field" by responding to the Enlightenment thinkers. Instead, she adds, "theologians began to invoke philosophy, with its inferential reasoning method, as well as science with its tests of objective hypotheses. They used these methods in order to defend the existence of God. In that sense, theology in fact found a common ground on which it could dialogue with the rising atheism, but at the price of its unique feature. What disappeared was the understanding of God revealed in the Bible, through the history of Israel and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

According to her, the traditional Catholic view of God has weakened further with the "discovery" of a new contemporary cosmology, explained since then by the Big Bang theory. The theologian explains that the new thesis on the origin of the universe is opposed to the view that the "universe was static" and the thesis that "everything was made directly by God, as recounted in the book of Genesis, and remains in a same permanent state throughout its existence." Elizabeth also points out that ancient and medieval philosophy were responsible for organizing "all these static creatures into a great hierarchy of beings" as follows: "At the base was nonliving matter (rocks, water, stars). Above that base came the vegetables and then animals, then humans, then the angels and each higher level was blessed with more spirit than the ones below. At the top of the pyramid of being was God, creator of all."

For the theologian, the new theories of science raised other issues for theology, and "the cosmology of the Big Bang and evolution on Earth show that things are always changing, new creatures are always emerging and creation is in the making." In this sense, she emphasizes that, from her point of view,  the new "scientific discoveries" allowed the possibility of "us referring to God not only on top of a pyramid of being, but within and throughout all the circle of life that arises, struggles, develops and dies, creating even more new life. For Christian theology, bringing the Holy Spirit, which is the Creator Spirit, to the scene, means obviously bringing the whole Trinitarian God to the scene, not just a single male figure who creates."

She also recalls that Christian theology interprets Jesus "as the Word and the Wisdom of God whose life, death and resurrection reveal the character of the living God. What do we glimpse through that lens? A merciful love that knows no bounds, a compassion that deeply penetrates the sin, suffering and terrible death of people in order to bring new life." However, she argues, the "ecological" view of God "guarantees theology the possibility of crossing the species line and extending this divine solidarity to all creatures."

Faced with questions raised by the European Enlightenment thinkers and the recent Big Bang theory, the theologian emphasizes that "the challenge for contemporary theology, being done in a cultural context in which atheism is now a given, is clear: not repeating this big mistake. We need to turn to the Bible and to the riches of Christian tradition for a fuller understanding of the living God."

Elizabeth Johnson is Professor of Theology in the undergraduate and graduate programs at Fordham University, a Jesuit university in New York, where she teaches systematic theology and feminist theology. She is a former president of the American Theological Society and the Catholic Theological Society. She is part of the editorial board of the journals Theological Studies, Horizons: Journal of the College Theology Society and Theoforum. Elizabeth is also the author of Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (Bloomsbury Academic, 2014).

In turn, Cadernos Teologia Pública, one of the publications of Instituto Humanitas Unisinos - IHU, has published the following articles by Elizabeth Johnson:



Check out the interview.

IHU On-Line: How does current cosmology understand the creation story? What is telling the story of creation in light of contemporary cosmology?

Elizabeth Johnson: The current scientific consensus holds that the universe originated about 13.8 billion years ago in a primordial explosion called " the Big Bang", an outpouring of matter and energy that is still ongoing.

This material expanded according to a precisely calibrated rate, unfolding not too fast, not too slow. Its irregular bumps allowed gravity to bring the hydrogen atoms together; its dense friction gave birth to the stars that joined together in swirls of galaxies.

About five billion years ago, in a corner of a galaxy, our solar system was formed as follows: some old giant stars died amid great explosions that "cooked" their simpler atoms, transforming them into heavier materials such as carbon and iron, expelling their wastes into the cosmos. Gravity gathered part of this cloud of dust and gas and this gave birth to a new star, our sun. Part of this cloud dissolved into very small pieces that caught fire, forming the planets in our solar system, including Earth.

Finally, 3.5 billion years ago, another important change took place. Certain materials in the ancient seas of our planet acquired the power to reproduce, and life began. Life then evolved from single-celled to multicellular creatures, from sea to land and air, from plant to animal life, and, most recently, from primates to humans -- we mammals whose brains are so richly textured we experience self-reflective consciousness and freedom or, in classical philosophy terms, mind and will.

IHU On-Line: This contemporary history of the universe teaches us amazing things.

Elizabeth Johnson: The universe is unfathomably old. One earth year can dramatize this cosmic history. If the Big Bang occurred on January 1st, our sun and planets came into existence on September 9th, life on Earth would originate on September 25th and our human species would come on the scene on December 31st at five minutes to midnight. We humans would have arrived only recently.

The observable universe is incomprehensibly large. There are over 100 billion galaxies, each containing billions of stars, and no one knows how many moons and planets, all of them being visible and audible matter, only a fraction of all matter and energy in the universe. The Earth is a small planet, orbiting a medium-sized star on the edge of a spiral galaxy.

The universe is profoundly dynamic. The Big Bang , the galaxies and stars, stardust, the Earth, the Earth molecules, single-celled creatures with life, the life and death of these evolutionary creatures, a progressive life tide, fragile but unstoppable, up to the whirlwind of millions of species that exist today, and from one of the branches of this tree of life, homo sapiens, the species through which the Earth becomes conscious of itself.

The universe is deeply interconnected. Everything is connected to everything; nothing we can conceive is isolated. What makes our blood red? Theologian and scientist Arthur Peacocke explains that "every atom of iron in our blood would not be there if it had not been produced in some galactic explosion billions of years ago and had not finally condensed to form the iron in the crust of the earth, from which we came." We are made of stardust. The subsequent history of evolution makes it clear that humans share with all other living creatures on our planet a common genetic ancestor. Bacteria, pine trees, blueberries, horses, the great gray whales -- we are all genetic relatives in the great community of life.

IHU On-Line: From the perspective of that Big Bang cosmology, how should we view and refer to God?

Elizabeth Johnson: Before that cosmology was discovered, people thought that the universe was static. Everything was made directly by God as recounted in the book of Genesis, and remained in the same permanent state throughout its existence. Ancient and medieval philosophy organized all these static creatures in a large hierarchy of beings. At the base was nonliving matter (rocks, water, stars). On top of that base came vegetables and then animals, then humans, then the angels and each higher level was blessed with more spirit than those that were below. At the top of the pyramid of being was God, creator of all.

Given the science of the time, this was a clever arrangement. Using it, theology focused on what it called "the transcendence of God," that is, the fact that God is absolutely different and is beyond all of creation.

Contemporary science, however, raises new questions for theology. The Big Bang cosmology and evolution on Earth show that things are always changing, new creatures are always emerging and creation is in the making. While continuing to assert transcendence, theology's answer now recovers the doctrine of continuous creation, which sees the presence of the Creator Spirit dwelling within the evolving universe, sustaining its existence, enabling its life and giving rise to its evolution.

IHU On-Line: What do you mean by "God is at the top of the pyramid of Being"? Is God "on top of the pyramid of Being" or not? If God isn't on top, what does that mean?

Elizabeth Johnson: A very beautiful metaphor by the British philosopher Herbert McCabe contains this insight: "The Creator makes all things and keeps them in existence from moment to moment -- not just like a sculptor, who makes a statue and leaves it alone, but like a singer who keeps her song in existence at all times."

So, now we can refer to God not only on top of a pyramid of being, but within and throughout all the circle of life that arises, struggles, develops and dies, creating even more new life. For Christian theology, bringing the Holy Spirit, which is the Creator Spirit, to the stage, means obviously bringing the whole Trinitarian God to the scene, not just a single male figure who creates.

IHU On-Line: What are some of the images used in the Bible to refer to God and what do they tell us about Him? Is the fact that God is presented in images enough to understand Him as not being at the top of the pyramid?

Elizabeth Johnson: To account for the continuous dynamic presence of God in the world, the Bible often uses natural images, such as the ruah, which means breathing, breath or wind blowing, also running water, clouds moving, birds flying, and burning fire. Not that the Spirit is impersonal. But these elements convey something of the moving energy of the Creator Spirit operating in the world more clearly than the limited image of a human person.

Consider fire. Valued for its heat and light, but being also sometimes uncontrollably dangerous, fire symbolizes the presence of the divine in most world religions. Lighting lamps or candles, as well as burning incense, are typical ritual acts. Similarly in the Bible, fire often means the presence of the divine. You may remember the burning bush where Moses met the God of Abraham who sent him to lead the Israelites in their flight from slavery in Egypt. Also remember Pentecost when tongues of fire descended on Jesus' disciples and they were inspired to go out and preach.

For humans, the approach of the fire of the Spirit always marks the coming of grace, of rest, of liberation, love, comfort, healing and trust. As in the human world, the same occurs in nature -- all creation is permeated, lit up, energized, and emboldened by the fire of the Spirit.

In a poetic oracle, the 12th century theologian Hildegard von Bingen thus expressed the Spirit: "I, the greatest and most fiery power, have begotten every living spark ... I burn over the beauty of the countryside; I shine in the waters; in the sun, moon and stars I burn. And through the ethereal wind, I induce everything to glow with a certain invisible life that sustains all. I, the fiery power, remain hidden in these things and they shine from me."

Each of the cosmic images used in the Bible to indicate the presence of God can be developed in a similar way. They express the immanence, or the intimate presence and activity of the Creator Spirit which is not far from any of us. As the apostle Paul wrote, it is in God we live and move and have our being (cf. Acts 17:28).

IHU On-Line: The principles of narrative theology appear as an alternative to dogmatic philosophy from the perspective of understanding the dynamic nature of the relationship of creation with God. In that sense, how does narrative theology account for the opposite, that is, the truths of faith beyond the story, such as the salvific character of Jesus? How does a theology that takes into account the narrative of current cosmology and the history of evolution express the truth of faith about the salvific value of Jesus?

Elizabeth Johnson: The story of life is a story of suffering and death for millions of creatures in millions of millennia. The temptation is to deny the violence and escape to a romantic view of the natural world. But there is another option, namely, reading the Gospel with attentive eyes.

Christian theology interprets Jesus as the Word and the Wisdom of God whose life, death and resurrection reveal the character of the living God. What do we glimpse through that lens? A merciful love that knows no bounds, a compassion that deeply penetrates the sin, suffering and terrible death of people in order to bring new life. The ecological view of God guarantees theology the possibility of crossing the species line and extending this divine solidarity to all creatures.

In the Incarnation, the Word of God became flesh, part of the Earth's matter, in solidarity with the flesh of all creatures. As Pope John Paul II wrote, "Incarnation signifies the taking up into unity with God not only of human nature, but in this human nature, everything that is flesh: the whole of humanity, the entire visible and material world. The Incarnation, then, has a cosmic significance."

Jesus preached that not a sparrow falls to the ground without God's heart knowing and caring about it. The cross brought Jesus into union with all who die. In the resurrection, the power of God's life opens a future for this victim of state violence and, through him, for all who die. This is the reason why the Church sings "Hallelujah" at Easter.

Through Jesus, we learn that salvation has a cosmic scope. The Creator Spirit dwells in compassionate solidarity with every living creature that suffers, from the dinosaurs destroyed by an asteroid to the impala fawn devoured by a lioness. The Spirit is constantly working all the time to renew the face of the earth. This idea does not mean that we should glorify suffering, a trap that should be carefully avoided. But this leads to the involvement of the relationship of the life-giving Spirit to a suffering, evolutionary world, with an eye on divine compassion. The cry of nature is met by the Spirit groaning in the labor pains of all creation to bring the new to birth (Rom. 8:22-23). This is the model of cross and resurrection that is operating on a cosmic scale.

IHU On-Line: How do you respond to the US bishops' criticism that when your book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God criticizes modern theism, it ends up criticizing key points of Catholic theology?

Elizabeth Johnson: My basic answer is that the bishops need to study the history of theology more closely. One of the great insights that appears at the end of the massive study At the Origins of Modern Atheism by Michael Buckley, SJ, is that theology took a wrong step in the 17th century. It was trying to respond to the attacks of European Enlightenment against the existence of God. But rather than appealing to its own primary materials, namely Christology that centers on the person and teaching of Jesus Christ as well as on religious experience with its focus on personal testimony motivated by the Holy Spirit, theology abandoned its distinctive field.

Instead, theologians began to invoke philosophy, with its inferential reasoning method, as well as science with its tests of objective hypotheses. They used these methods in order to defend the existence of God. In that sense, theology in fact found a common ground on which it could dialogue with the rising atheism, but at the price of its unique feature. What disappeared was the understanding of God revealed in the Bible, through the history of Israel and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

"It is not without some sense of wonder that one recalls that the theologians bracketed religion in order to defend religion." (Buckley) If this had been done only as a first step, the results might not have been so poor. But this remained the ongoing full option of most of the great thinkers in the following centuries. Consequently, natural theology never met mystical theology, which means that philosophical reasoning that goes from the world to God, done from the privileged position of the spectator, was never connected with the religious experience of God in Christ.

The result is a simplistic view of God that's at work in popular culture and much of the preaching of the church. It is a monarchical view that sees God as an invisible person of great power who dwells beyond the world but who may intervene from time to time to bring about change. Although "He" loves the world, He is uncontaminated by its disorder. And this distant and lordly lawgiver is always at the pinnacle of hierarchical power, reinforcing the structures of authority in society, the church and the family.

This simplistic view is now known by the abbreviated term "modern theism." Note how it provides a weapon for the modern a-theism. Because this is the God that atheists say does not exist. In fact, with no trace of the biblical story of the gracious self-giving of God's covenant and salvation, this idea is more a modern human construction than an expression of God's revelation.

The challenge for contemporary theology, being done in a cultural context in which atheism is now a given, is obvious: not repeating this big mistake. We need to return to the Bible and to the riches of Christian tradition for a fuller understanding of the living God.

IHU On-Line: What are the ethical implications of seeing the presence of the Creator Spirit in an ecological world?

Elizabeth Johnson: There are two consequences, one positive and one negative. In a positive sense, it becomes clear that the intimate secret of ecological communities of plants and animals is the dwelling of the Spirit of God within them. Instead of being far from what is sacred, the evolving world of life bears the mark of the sacred, being imbued with spiritual splendor itself. This is not to say that such a world is divine. But that in its own vitality, its suffering, death and its new advances, it is permeated, enlivened and encompassed by God's Spirit. It also means that the natural world is revealing -- it reveals something of wisdom, beauty, power and divine love for those who have eyes to see. How wonderful!

In a negative sense, it is clear that both from the scientific and the religious perspective, the current destruction of life on Earth through human actions is a thorough failure. To speak scientifically, we are destroying the fruit of millions of years of evolution on earth and preventing its future. To speak philosophically, this is a moral failure. Ethicists have coined new words to name this violence: biocide, ecocide, geocide. Speaking theologically, this destruction is deeply sinful, contradicting the will of the Creator whose beloved creation it is. "Sacrilege" and "desecration" are not strong enough names. The bishops of the Philippines even say that such theft is an insult to Christ -- "the destruction of any part of creation, especially the extinction of species, defaces the image of Christ which is etched in creation." Whatever the language, the judgement is still that the ecological damage that humans are causing the Earth is deeply wrong.

In Christian terms, the movement from sin to a new life marked by grace is known as conversion. Conversion means a turning point, a change in direction, turning away from one path and towards another. Given the ecological ruin, we, the whole church, need a profound conversion of mind and heart to the Earth which is God's beloved creation. This is more than simply a matter of moral or ascetic practice. It is a spiritual conversion toward a deeper relationship with the living God who made and loves the natural world of which we are a part. Converting to the Earth, we become partners with the giver of life and responsibly careful with the natural world that for now is being ruined.