Thursday, November 17, 2011

What is crucial

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

Matthew 25:31-46

The tale is not really a parable but an evocation of the final judgment for all people. The whole scene is concentrated in a long dialogue between the Judge, who is none other than the risen Jesus, and two groups of people: those who have eased the suffering of the neediest and those who have lived denying them help.

Over the centuries, Christians have seen in this fascinating dialogue "the best recapitulation of the Gospel", "the utmost praise of love and solidarity", and "the sternest warning to those who falsely take refuge in religion". We are going to point out the basic statements.

All men and women without exception will be judged by the same criteria. What gives imperishable value to life is not social status, personal talent, and achievement over the years. What is crucial is love put into practice in solidarity with those in need of help.

This love translates into very specific deeds. For example, "giving something to eat", "giving something to drink", "welcoming the immigrant", "clothing the naked", "visiting the one who is sick or in prison". What's crucial in God's eyes is not religious deeds, but human gestures of help towards the needy. They can spring from a believer or from the heart of an agnostic who thinks of those who suffer.

Most of those who have helped the needy they have met along the way haven't done it for religious reasons. They haven't thought about God or Jesus Christ. They have simply sought to relieve some of the suffering in the world. Now, invited by Jesus, they enter the Kingdom of God as "blessed by the Father".

Why is it so crucial to help the needy and so reprehensible to deny them aid? Because, as the Judge reveals, what you do or fail to do to them, you do or fail to do to God himself incarnate in Christ. When we abandon a needy person, we are abandoning God. When we alleviate his or her suffering, we are doing the same for God.

This surprising message makes us all look at the suffering. There is no true religion, no progressive policy, no responsible human rights proclamation that doesn't defend the neediest, easing their suffering and restoring their dignity.

In each person who suffers, Jesus comes to meet us, looks at us, questions and implores us. Nothing brings us closer to Him than learning to look carefully and compassionately on the faces of those who suffer. Nowhere can we more truly recognize the face of Jesus.

Liberation Theology at 40

by Benjamín Forcano (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Forty years ago, a new way of doing theology began, which has significantly influenced society and the Church. At age 40, some think it's finished and others congratulate it for the work it has done and the challenges it's facing in the future.

But liberation theology did not begin in the 70s. In 1492, the so-called discovery of America occured and in 1511, a Dominican friar, Montesinos, on behalf of his community and to the authorities of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) said in reference to the indigenous people and the treatment they were receiving: "Are they not men?" It was the first question in the history of liberation, as Professor Reyes Mate rightly stated in a lecture on this topic.

The history of liberation theology can be said to have begun on December 11, 1511, 500 years ago today.

No doubt, there were Christians who -- and always from the experience of their faith -- saw theology as subordinate to some oppressive colonizing dictates. But their experience never stopped expressing itself in new theological categories and making itself public in society. Starting in the 60s, great expectations for change have been generated in the world, but Christians seemed to lack creativity and didn't fall into this change with their own alternatives for transformation.

It was then that Gustavo Gutierrez launched a new theological approach from the Latin American context: How does one present God in a bipolar world of rich and poor, where their relationship is logically one of injustice and exclusion, and how, then, is faith able to cause radical changes? These changes suggest that the poor, the disenfranchised, the discriminated cease to be so, which is not possible without turning the system around.

If we Christians have the Gospel as a foundation and measure, we find in it a statement that sounds like a manifesto, in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It cuts through all the schemes of vain theologies and marks the style to follow. Jesus asks: "In your opinion, which of these three who saw the half-dead man who had been assaulted by bandits, was neighbor to him?"

"The one who had compassion on him."

"Perfect. Go and do likewise." (Lk 10:30-37)

Feeling compassion and acting accordingly is a prerequisite for those who want to do liberation theology. More than cold and abstract reflection, liberation theology is an experience, a praxis of love, within which a new way of doing theology springs up naturally.

Obviously liberation theology is not an end in itself; it doesn't stop at explaining what has happened, but goes on to change and liberation in practice. Explaining the contradictory reality that exists and leaving it as is, is not liberation theology. The reality, unjustly interpreted and configured, needs to be changed to be consistent with God's plan, which Jesus called the Kingdom of God, and which is built on the basis of equality, justice, fraternity and liberty. Living out liberation through change and liberating practice is imperative for the Christian if he wants to be faithful to the plan of the liberating God.

To change reality, Christians must have an analysis of that reality which is woven around the wealth/poverty, North/South pairings, and show that this situation is not due to chance or the will of the gods but to the selfishness and greed of men, the domination that the strongest have established over the weakest and neediest.

This analysis is necessary to discover the real causes of oppression and those who are responsible for them and to avoid idealism. Marxism, not as a philosophy or world view of reality but as a science, can help a lot to gain knowledge of these causes and their dire consequences. It is valid to the extent that its analysis proves true in pointing to the genesis and effects of capitalism. Liberation theologians never took Marxism as a philosophical view of reality or used it uncritically.

Precisely because liberation theology aims to change what is oppression and injustice, it has been falsely attacked. This theology is demanding for the whole Church the proper place to which its faith assigns it based on following Jesus: to be poor, to live with the poor, and to commit itself to their liberation.

This repositioning of the Church is dangerous for the oppressors and for a Power-Church that is used to living in alliance with the powerful. Nothing is given in this theology that does not faithfully translate the radical message of Jesus and His Gospel. But those "challenged" by liberation theology and their dominion and the "media giants" took responsibility for broadcasting that liberation theology was unorthodox because of its Marxistization, its separation from the Church's magisterium, its promotion of the guerrilla, its merely temporal concept of salvation, because of the reduction of the historical Jesus to an earthly leader...

Later, many came to associate the fate of liberation theology with that of real socialism. The fall of the latter led them to believe that liberation theology fell in a parallel manner. Double trick: because socialism was not the same as state socialism and liberation theology was not its subordinate, but had its own origin and basis in the Gospel. As Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga rightly said: "The godfather of liberation theology is not Marx but God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ."

The fall of real socialism didn't canonize the intrinsic evil of capitalism, but rather encouraged us to delve deeper into the causes of oppression, now globalized. As always, economic structures count in the progress of society, and without them one can't understand the workings of the neoliberal system. But they aren't decisive nor do they choke out the influence of other factors in society -- the role of citizens, first of all. The current awareness can reverse the dominant Eurocentric view that has ruled the Earth for over 400 years. Man is not the owner and predator of the land, and he cannot continue exploiting it limitlessly and without solidarity.

Today, liberation theology acts on the fronts most in need of liberation: women/men, conflicting religions, harassed indigenous people, people in submission for centuries...

The new paradigm of liberation theology goes beyond all forms of subordination in the modern world, embodied in the capitalist society and system. Today's society with the role of citizens -- as it appears in the M-15 movement of the "outraged ones" -- is marking a turning point in face of the relationship of domination, established for centuries.

It is a fact that liberation theology does not seem to be providing eminent thinkers, as in previous years. Probably because its transformative sap is circulating at the bottom, more horizontally, permeating and directly driving the thoughts and action of "the voiceless".

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Spanish Catholic Hierarchy vs. the Progressive Theologians: La Lucha Continua

Spanish theologian Juan José Tamayo (right), president of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII and author of numerous books, was prohibited last weeek by Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid, from giving a lecture at San Félix, a parish in that city run by the Viatoran order. The Archdiocese offered no explanation for the censorship, though the differences between Dr. Tamayo and the Cardinal are well-known, and the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII has been forced to hold their annual conference in the Salón de Actos de Comisiones Obreras because they have not been allowed to use any Catholic Church facility.

Instead, Dr. Tamayo, Chair of Theology and Religious Studies at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, gave his lecture on "Is liberation theology dead? The option for the poor today" at the María Moliner Public Library last Friday.

Commenting on the incident, Dr. Tamayo said, "It's one more example of the bunker mentality of the more fundamentalist bishops who close ranks to block free and progressive theological thought." And he added, "we are moving towards the Church of Gregory VII."

In a similar incident, Mons. Mario Iceta, bishop of Bilbao, has banned theologian Andrés Torres Queiruga from teaching a course at the Bilbao Diocesan Institute of Theology and Pastoral Ministry. Torres Queiruga is professor of Theology at the Instituto Teolóxico Compostelá and of Religious Philosophy at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela. He writes primarily in Galician, is the author of numerous books, and in 1990 received an award from the Spanish government for his translation of the Bible.

Although Dr. Torres Queiruga has had his own run-ins with the Spanish Catholic hierarchy, this latest move seems to be more directed at reining in the Institute or, as Javier Vitoria, a former director suggests, "leading the Institute back to a more centrist position." However, Mons. Iceta also let it be known that he does not consider Dr. Torres Queiruga to be "someone representative of the diocese." He did add that the theologian could be one member of a roundtable where multiple views were presented.

And the decision follows on a terse communiqué from the Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela disassociating itself from the journal Encrucillada which Torres Queiruga edits: "The editorial policy and contents of Revista Encrucillada, as can be seen from its organizational chart, are the sole responsibility of the editor, his editorial team and those who contribute articles." In the same communiqué, the Archdiocese distanced itself from a forum on "Towards a New Spirituality" that Encrucillada held earlier this month at which theologians Sr. Teresa Forcades, Fr. José Antonio Pagola, and Dr. Luis González-Carvajal spoke. "Nor is the organization of forums being held by said journal the responsibility of the bishops of the Church in Galicia...obviously, those who organize the forum invite those who agree with their positions and message." And the communiqué concluded "the benchmark for evaluating content and opinions related to Christian thought is the Magisterium of the Church and, specifically, the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

When asked later by journalist José Manuel Vidal to what he attributed the reaction of the ultra-traditional Catholics to his forum, Dr. Torres Queiruga replied: "First of all, ignorance. I don't know to what extent they realize the very serious slander they are spreading, something which certainly, in the traditional morality they claim to defend, is a mortal sin. Then there's an attitude that hides an ignorance of true interpretation of faith and legitimate pluralism behind an aggressive dogmatism, that never distinguishes between faith and theology, between what is essential and what is secondary. They repeat phrases without having spent the slightest bit of time to understand what they really mean and comment on opinions of authors and books that they've never read. What I find hard to understand is how so much hatred can be distilled in the name of God who is love, and that in the name of Jesus who was enormously renewing and even "revolutionary" in His interpretation of the traditional faith that He had received, they are trying to impose a reactionary religion, which kills the living voice of the Gospel. Basically, they are reenacting today the same procedures and calumnies with which others embittered Jesus of Nazareth's life two thousand years ago...even killing Him."

We're still fighting the same battles that Jesus did with the religious authorities of our time.

In praise of the tavern

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)

Because of my "intellectual nomadism", always speaking in many places and environments on many topics ranging from spirituality to environmental responsibility and even about the possibility of the end of our species, the organizers, out of deference, often invite me to a good restaurant in town. Obviously, I keep the good Franciscan tradition and welcome the dishes with positive comments. But I'm always left with a bad taste in my mouth that keeps the meal from being a celebration. I remember that most friends can not enjoy these foods, especially the millions of hungry in the world. It's seems like I'm taking food from their mouths. How can we celebrate the generosity of friends and Mother Earth if, in the words of Gandhi, "hunger is an insult and most deadly form of violence that exists"?

In this context, I am reminded of the comfort of bars or taverns. I like going to taverns because I can eat without a guilty conscience there. They are all over the world, even in the poor communities, where I worked for years. There is a real democracy there; the tavern (where lower income people go) welcomes everyone. A university professor can be there drinking his pint next to a construction worker, an actor at the same table as a crook, and even a drunk having his nip. You just have to get there, go sit down, and shout, "Give me a nice cold pint."

The Brazilian tavern is more than its visual aspect, tiled in bright colors, the patron saint on the wall -- usually a St. Anthony with the Child Jesus in his arms, the symbol of the amateur football team, and colorful beverage ads. The tavern is a state of mind, the place to meet with friends and neighbors, conversation until the wee hours, the argument about the latest soccer game, comments on a favorite novel, criticism of politicians and well-deserved swearing against the corrupt. Soon everyone becomes friends, within an emerging community spirit. Nobody here is rich or poor. They are simply people expressing themselves as people, using the language of the people. There is much humor, jokes and bravado. Sometimes, as in the State of Minas, songs are improvised, accompanied by someone on the guitar.

Nobody cares about the overall condition of the bar or tables. The important thing is that the glass is thoroughly clean and free of grease; otherwise the creamy foam of the pint that should be about three fingers, breaks down. Nobody is bothered by how the floor is, or the state of the bathroom.

The names are quite varied, depending on the region of the country. It may be Adega da Velha, Bar do Sacha, Boteco do Seo Gomes, Bar do Giba, Botequim do Jóia, Pavão Azul, Confraria do Bode Cheiroso, Casa Cheia, and many others. Belo Horizonte is the Brazilian city that has the most taverns, and every year it holds the competition for the best tavern food. The dishes are also varied, usually based on family and regional recipes -- sun-cured meat in the Northeast, pork and tutú (a paste of beans with manioc flour and fried bananas) in Minas. The names are ingenious: mexidoido chapado ("scrambled and stoned"), porconóbis de sabugosa (named after pork and the leaves of a plant called ora pro nobis), costela de Adão ("Adam's rib" -- pork chops with cassava), torresminho de barriga ("belly bacon"). There is a dish I enjoy a lot that is offered at the Central Market of Belo Horizonte and it was given an award in one of the competitions: beef liver with onions and jiló ("scarlet eggplant"). If it were up to me, this dish should be on the menu for the banquet of the kingdom of heaven that the heavenly Father will give for the blessed.

In retrospect, the tavern has a citizenship role: it gives those who go there, especially the most regular, the feeling of belonging to the city or the neighborhood. There being no other places of entertainment and leisure, it allows people to meet, forget their social status, and experience an equality that is generally denied in daily life.

For me, the tavern is a metaphor for Jesus' dream of commensality, a place where everyone can sit at the table, celebrating fraternal coexistence and making a meal, communion. And in my case, it's the place where I can eat without a guilty conscience.

I dedicate this text to my friend Jaguar, a cartoonist who appreciates taverns.

Photo: Leonardo Boff's favorite dish, beef liver with onions and jiló