Friday, September 30, 2011

Caring for mourning and loss

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Loss and mourning are inexorably part of the human condition. We are all subject to the iron law of entropy: everything is decaying slowly, the body weakens, the years leave their marks, disease takes away our vital capital uncontrollably. That is the law of life, which includes death.

But there are cracks that break the natural flow. They're the losses caused by traumatic events like the betrayal of a friend, job loss, loss of a loved one through divorce or sudden death. Tragedy is also a part of life.

Facing loss and nourishing resilience, that is, learning from crises, is a great personal challenge. The experience of mourning is especially painful, as it shows the full weight of the Negative. Mourning has one intrinsic requirement: it demands to be suffered through, and overcome positively.

There are many specialized studies on grief. According to the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, experiencing and overcoming it involves several stages.

The first is denial: Faced with the paralyzing fact, the person naturally exclaims, "it can't be," "it's a lie." Disconsolate wailing erupts that no words can contain.

The second stage is anger that is expressed: "Why precisely to me? What happened isn't fair." It's the moment the person perceives the uncontrollable limits of life and doesn't want to acknowledge them. It's common for him to blame himself for the loss, for not having done or for having stopped doing what should have been done.

The third stage is characterized by depression and existential void. We shut ourselves up in our own capsule and pity ourselves. We are reluctant to get back on our feet. Here, every warm hug and word of consolation, though it sounds conventional, gains unexpected meaning. It's the longing of the soul to hear that there is meaning and that the guidestars were only obscured but haven't disappeared.

The fourth is the self-empowerment through a sort of negotiation with the pain of loss: "I can't succumb or sink completely, I have to bear this rending to raise my family or get a degree." In the middle of the dark night, a point of light announces itself.

The fifth is resigned and calm acceptance of the inescapable fact. We have finally incorporated that scarring wound into our existential journey. Nobody leaves mourning the same as when they go into it. The person forcibly matures and finds that loss is not necessarily total, but always brings an existential gain.

Mourning is a painful journey, so it has to be cared for. Allow me an autobiographical example that better clarifies the need to take care of mourning. In 1981, I lost a sister with whom I had a special affinity. She was the last of the sisters of the 11 siblings. When she was a teacher, at 10 o'clock one morning, in front of the students, she gave a huge cry and fell dead. Mysteriously, at age 33, the aorta had torn.

Our whole family, who came from various parts of the country, was disoriented by the fatal shock. We wept copious tears. We spent two days looking at pictures and remembering, sorrowfully, the events in the life of the beloved little sister. The others could take care of mourning and loss. I had to leave shortly afterwards to go to Chile, where I had to give lectures to all the friars of the Southern Cone. I left brokenhearted. Each talk was an exercise in getting beyond myself. From Chile, I went to Italy where I gave talks on the renewal of religious life for an entire order.

The loss of my dear sister tormented me as something unbearably absurd. I started to faint two or three times a day with no evident physical reason. They had to take me to the doctor. I told him the drama that was going on. He understood it all intuitively and said, "you still haven't buried your sister and you haven't kept the necessary mourning period. Until you take care of your grief and bury her, you aren't going to get better. Part of you died with her and needs to be resurrected." I canceled all the remaining programs. In silence and prayer, I took care of mourning. When I got back, in a restaurant, as we remembered our dear sister, my theologian brother Clodovis and I wrote on a paper napkin what we then put in the memento book to her blessed memory:

"For thirty-three years, like those of Jesus / Years of hard work and suffering / but also much fruit / Claudia bore the pain of others / In her own heart, as rescue / She was clear as the mountain stream / Kind and gentle as the flower of the field / She wove, stitch by stitch, and in silence / A beautiful brocade / She left two strong and beautiful little ones / And a husband proud of her / Happy are you, Claudia, for the Lord on His return / Found you standing, working / Lamp lit / And you fell into His lap / For the infinite embrace of Peace."

Among her papers we found this sentence: "There is always a sense of God in all human events -- it's important to discover it." Until today we go on looking for that sense that we can only glimpse through faith.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Are we disappointing God?

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Mt. 21:33-43

Jesus is in the temple precinct, surrounded by a group of senior religious leaders. He has never had them so close. So, with incredible audacity, He delivers a parable aimed directly at them. Without a doubt, it's the toughest one to come out of His mouth.

When Jesus begins to tell them about a man who planted a vineyard and cared for it with solicitude and special affection, He creates a climate of expectation. The "vineyard" is the people of Israel. Everyone knows the song of the prophet Isaiah that speaks of God's love for His people with that beautiful image. They are the ones responsible for the "vineyard" so dear to God.

What nobody expects is the serious accusation that Jesus is going to throw out: God is disappointed. Centuries have passed and He hasn't been able to gather the fruits of justice, solidarity and peace He had expected from this beloved people.

Again and again He has sent His servants, the prophets, but those responsible for the vineyard have abused them mercilessly, even killing them. What more can God do for His vineyard? According to the story, the lord of the vineyard sends his own son, thinking: "They will respect my son." But the tenants kill him to keep his inheritance.

The parable is clear. The temple leaders are forced to acknowledge that the lord has to trust his vineyard to other tenants who are more loyal. Jesus applies the parable quickly to them: "I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit."

Overwhelmed by a crisis that can no longer be resolved through minor reforms, distracted by discussions that blind us to what is essential, without the courage to listen to God's call to a radical conversion to the Gospel, the parable forces us to ask serious questions.

Are we this new people that Jesus wants, dedicated to producing the fruit of the Kingdom, or are we disappointing God? Are we working for a more humane world? How are we responding from God's plan to the victims of the economic crisis and those who are dying of hunger and malnutrition in Africa?

Do we respect the Son God has sent us or do we throw Him "out of the vineyard" in many ways? Have we accepted the task that Jesus has entrusted to us to humanize life or are we distracted by other more secondary religious interests?

What are we doing with the men and women God sends us today too to remind us of His love and justice? Are there no longer prophets of God or witnesses to Jesus among us? Do we no longer recognize them?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Never lose the ability to learn": Leonardo Boff on "É Notícia"

In an interview with journalist Kennedy Alencar on "É Notícia", aired by Rede TV! on Monday morning, theologian Leonardo Boff talked about celibacy, the existence of God and criticized the media churches, whether Catholic or evangelical. "They continually sin against the second commandment, which is using the holy name of God in vain and they present a Christianity that is a small Lexotan to calm people," said the scholar.

Boff was a priest in the Catholic Church and helped establish liberation theology in Brazil - which in essence defines poverty as a sin and promotes social engagement in building a more just and caring society. His questioning about the Catholic hierarchy, expressed in his book Church, Charism and Power, was the target of a process by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the direction of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, which culminated in his departure from Church.

This in-depth interview is probably the best summary of the main elements of Leonardo Boff's life and theological and political perspectives that I have ever seen. If someone were to make a transcript of it, I'd be delighted to translate it into English. As it is, I can merely attempt to highlight some of the points covered in each part. Kennedy Alencar is to be commended for the thoroughness of his preparation and questions, thus avoiding sensationalism while hitting on all of the major aspects of Leonardo's story.

Part 1

In the first part of the program, Leonardo shares about how he was randomly assigned the name "Leonardo" on entering the Franciscans (his birth name was "Genézio" but he preferred "Leonardo" and kept it even after he left the order). He talks about his youth, about wanting to be a truck driver, and about being drawn to the Franciscans. The first part also covers his seminary days, his early friendship with Cardinal Ratzinger, his hope (because he respected Ratzinger as a theologian) and then disappointment at how Ratzinger fulfilled his job as head of the CDF. It covers Boff's silencing by the CDF, his definition of liberation theology (one interesting remark he makes is that he believes liberation theology could not have evolved without the liberation pedagogy of Paulo Freire), and his opposition to mandatory celibacy.

Part 2

In the second part, Leonardo talks about the Church's relationship to sexuality, the pedophilia scandal, the TV churches (both Catholic and evangelical) and the Charismatics and how they have cheapened Christianity. Leonardo says that Christianity can be summed up in the Lord's Prayer but that many churches are good at talking about "Pai Nosso" ("Our Father") while leaving aside the "pão nosso" ("our [daily] bread"). Alencar asks him about the existence of God and atheism and Leonardo answers that it's not a matter of providing physical proof of God's existence but presenting an image of a loving God that makes people want to believe in Him. He talks about the importance of hope and says that he hopes he will be remembered as having lived a life that was consistent with his ethical values. He says he is not afraid of death and hopes to work until it comes.

Part 3

The third part focuses on politics and Leonardo's views of Brazilian presidents Lula and Rousseff. Leonardo talks about corruption in the PT and the ways in which it has moved away from its origins when it was linked closely with the CEBs. Alencar also gets him to talk about his involvement in ecology which Leonardo views as a natural extension of liberation theology and the preferential option for the poor. He talks about two relatively new books -- The Tao of Liberation: Exploring the Ecology of Transformation and Cuidar da Terra, Salvar a Vida – Como Evitar o Fim do Mundo.

Also in Part 3, the two talk about forgiveness and reconciliation and the idea of a truth commission to bring justice for the victims of torture. At the end, Alencar asks Leonardo for quick impressions of different figures (Jesus? "My brother who showed me thee maternal and paternal face of God and who gave us hope that we humans, while still being human, can become God through participation [with Him in the divine plan]") and preferences (favorite piece of music? Beethoven's "9th Symphony", favorite singer? "Atahualpa Yupanqui", favorite book? "The Bible, especially the Psalms, which I read every day"). Finally, Alencar asks him for his favorite quote and Leonardo replies: "It's important to have knowledge, but it's more important to never lose the ability to learn."

Source:, 9/26/2011, and videos themselves.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sr. Teresa Forcades on "El Convidat"

I know you Teresa Forcades fans have been waiting for me to post the "El Convidat" ("The Guest") episode that aired Monday night where TV3 reporter Albert Om visits Sr. Teresa at her convent, Monestir San Benet in Montserrat, Spain. The episode, by the way, was a huge hit, attracting 732,000 viewers, or a 24.7% audience share.

While Om spends most of his time with Sr. Teresa, he also interviews other nuns in her community, and not just in order to ask them about Sr. Teresa. He and Sr. Teresa talk about everything from her notorious campaign against the swine flu vaccine to how she found her Benedictine vocation to how her fame has affected her relationship with her fellow nuns to her views on issues relating to the Catholic Church and sexuality.

This is probably the most intimate picture of Sr. Teresa we have had to date -- and not just because Om has persuaded her to show him her cell (bedroom). We get to see Sr. Teresa in her home environment, eating, praying, singing in choir during the hours. In addition to the interviews with the other nuns, there is a brief interview with a group of old friends of Sr. Teresa, who offer an inside view of a woman who, despite her frequent public appearances, is essentially a very private person.

The program offers a very beautiful and appealing image of monastic life and I wouldn't be surprised if Sr. Teresa's order were to receive numerous inquiries from potential candidates after it airs. While conservative Catholics often criticize her severely, Sr. Teresa has led other people back into the Church by putting a modern face on it. In one anecdote in the program, she tells of a woman who approached her on the street and said: "Teresa, thanks to you, I got married in the Church." Now, that's "new evangelism"!

PHOTOS: Amics i TV3 -- This is an album of photos from the filming this episode of "El Convidat"