Thursday, December 22, 2011

Inseparable Communion

By Sr. Teresa Forcades (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Un Manament Nou

NOTE: These current columns by Sr. Teresa, which we will be gradually translating into English, are extracts from her most recent book, published in Catalan in 2011 by the Abadía de Montserrat, Ser persona, avui: estudi del concepte de ‘persona’ en la teologia trinitària clàssica i de la seva relació amb la noció moderna de llibertat ["Being a person today: a study in the concept of 'person' in classic Trinitarian theology and its relationship to the modern notion of freedom"]. The book is an adaptation of her 2008 doctoral thesis at the Facultat de Teologia de Catalunya.

Besides being dependent on notions of space and time altogether improper for God, the notion of subordination, because of the perfect image ratio that exists between the Father and the Son, in diminishing the Son, also necessarily diminishes the Father:

"Moreover, whoever thinks so low of the Son, will also do so of the Father. Consequently, they do not take away the dignity of the Son, but, by repeating these arguments, they incur the charge of blasphemy against God, for every audacity they commit against the Son must necessarily be transferred to the Father. So whoever assigns to the Father the upper place by way of precedence, and asserts that His only begotten Son is in a more humble place, will find that to his fiction attach all the consequent conditions of body. And if these are the delusions of a drunken man or one who is on the brink of madness, how could it be pious not to worship and glorify Him who by nature, glory and dignity is conjoined with the Father, when He Himself has taught us that 'whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father' (John 5:23)?"(6,15)

St. Basil concludes that the doxology "Glory to the Father, with the Son, together with the Holy Spirit" is not only legitimate and in agreement with the written and oral tradition of the Church, but that it is particularly useful for capturing the difference between the persons and the unity of the essence that constitutes the mystery of God's being:

"Indeed, whoever says that the Son is with the Father, simultaneously states the properties of the hypostasis and of inseparable communion. This can be verified in human matters: the conjunction 'and' expresses the common element in an action, but the preposition 'with' means communion, in some sense. For example, Paul and Timothy sailed to Macedonia, while Tychicus and Onesimus were sent to the Colossians; from this we know that they did the same thing. If, however, we hear that they sailed with one another, and were sent with each other, we also know that they have carried out the action together. So this word, like no other, while demolishing the error of Sabellius, does the same with a diametrically opposed impiety. I speak of those who separate the Son from the Father and the Holy Spirit from the Son, by intervals of time (25,59)."

However, as we were reminded at the beginning of his treatise, St. Basil's intention was not at any time to replace one doxological formula with another, but to show 1) that the reality of God is above any formula, and 2) that the usual formula "Glory to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit" should be understood as the communion of the persons and never as the subordination of one person to another:

"And to you who love Christ, I say that the Church recognizes both usages and has not rejected one as destructive to the other (...). Therefore, the expression 'with whom' is for those who glorify, and 'through whom' is the term chosen by those who give thanks (7,16). "

In a Manger

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

Luke 2:1-14

According to Luke's story, it's the angel's message to the shepherds that offers us the key to understanding from the faith perspective the mystery enfolded in a Child born in strange circumstances on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

It's night. An unfamiliar light illuminates the darkness covering Bethlehem. The light doesn't descend on the place where the Child is, but envelopes the shepherds who hear the message. The Child remains hidden in darkness, in an unknown place. One must make an effort to find Him.

These are the first words we hear: "Do not be afraid. I bring you Good News, great joy for all the people." Something very great has happened. We all have a reason to rejoice. That Child doesn't just belong to Mary and Joseph. He has been born for all of us. He doesn't just belong to a few privileged ones. He is for all people.

We Christians should not hoard this holiday. Jesus belongs to those who follow Him in faith and to those who have forgotten Him, those who trust in God and those who doubt it all. No one faces their fears alone. No one is alone in their loneliness. There's Someone who is thinking of us.

So the messenger proclaims: "Today a Savior is born unto you, the Messiah, the Lord." He isn't the son of the emperor Augustus, the world dominator, celebrated as savior and bearer of peace thanks to the power of his legions. The birth of a powerful man is not good news in a world where the weak are the victims of all sorts of abuse.

This Child is born among a people in submission to the Empire. They didn't have Roman citizenship. No one in Rome awaited His birth. But He is the Savior we need. He will not be at the service of any Caesar. He will not work for any empire. He will only seek the Kingdom of God and His justice. He will live to make life more humane. Through Him, this unjust world will find God's salvation.

Where is this Child? How can we recognize Him? This is what the messenger says: "Here is the sign for you: You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." The Child was born an outcast. His parents were not able to find a welcoming place for Him. His mother gave birth to Him without anyone's help. She herself, as best she could, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.

God begins His adventure among men in this manger. We will not find Him among the powerful but among the weak. He isn't in the grand and spectacular but among the little ones and the poor. We must hear the message: let's go to Bethlehem; let's return to the roots of our faith. Let's look for God where He has become incarnate.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The likeness of God

By Sr. Teresa Forcades (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Un Manament Nou

For Basil, it was clear that the end of human life is full participation in the divine life. Having been passively created in the image of God, we need to make use of our freedom to reach the likeness of God. The Spirit of God pushes us to live according to God's will. Our response is decisive: either we can stifle the action of the Spirit or we can be open to it.

"Just as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become brilliant too, and shed forth a fresh brightness from themselves, so souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others. Hence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of charisms, participation in heaven and the dance of the angels, joy without end, abiding in God, being made like to God, and, highest of all, being made God." (9:23)

Due to sin, the step from the image to the likeness cannot be simply continuous. It can't just be the unfolding of potential that leaves intact or reinforces the initial identity but rather, as in the case of seed, we need a real transformation (1 Cor 15:51), we have to "die to be born anew."

The economy of our God and Savior over human beings is to bring them back from exile and rescue them for intimacy with God from the alienation caused by disobedience. (...) Therefore, for the perfection of life, the imitation of Christ is necessary not only in the examples of gentleness, humility, and patience He left us in His lifetime, but also of death itself, says Paul, the imitator of Christ -- "being conformed to His death, in order to attain the resurrection from the dead." (Phil 3:10-11) (15,35).

Basil reflects the belief of the Christians of the ascetic monastic movement at the end of the 4th century in his identification of the "death" that enables us to be "born from above" through baptism:

How, then, can we resemble Him in death? Being buried with Him in baptism. What is this kind of burial? And what is the benefit of imitation? First, you have to interrupt the course of the previous life. This is impossible unless one is born from above, according to the word of the Lord. In fact, the rebirth -- as its name suggests -- is the beginning of a second life. Now, before starting the second life, you have to put an end to the previous one (15:35).

(From Ser persona, hoy: estudio del concepto de 'persona' en la teología trinitaria clásica y de su relación con la noción moderna de libertad by Teresa Forcades i Vila. Published by the Abadía de Montserrat).

Christmas of yore: old and ever new

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Leonardo Boff Blog

Note: This essay, which Leonardo reproduced on his blog, is taken from a special Christmas book he compiled, O Sol da Esperança: Natal, histórias, poesias e símbolos ["The Sun of Hope: Christmas stories, poems and symbols"], Editora Mar de Idéias, Rio de Janeiro, 2007. The book is illustrated by graphic artist Adriana Miranda. There is a companion volume about Easter, Ovo da Esperança – o sentido da festa da Páscoa ["The Egg of Hope: the Meaning of Easter"]. I can't tell Orbis Books what to publish, but I think both titles would do very well in English...

I go way back to the late 30s, a time when Santa Claus didn't yet arrive by sleigh. In our Italian, German and Polish colonies that were taming the Concordia-SC region, known as the headquarters of Sadia and Seara with their excellent meat products, we were only familiar with Baby Jesus. Those were times of a deep and naive faith that informed every detail of life. For us children, Christmas was the culmination of the year, prepared and yearned for. Finally Baby Jesus came with His little mule (musseta in Italian) to bring us gifts.

The region was pine forests as far as the eye could see and it was easy to find a beautiful little pine tree. This was decorated with rudimentary materials from that area that was still under construction. Colored paper, cellophane, and pictures we had painted ourselves at school were used. Mother made gingerbread in different shapes -- human and pets -- which were hung on the branches of the pine tree. At the top there was always a big star covered in red paper.

Below, around the Christmas tree, we put up the nativity, made of scraps of paper that came from a magazine to which my father, a schoolmaster, subscribed. There was the Good Joseph, wholly devout Mary, the wise men, the shepherds, the little lambs, the ox and the ass, some dogs, the singing angels we hung on the lower branches. And of course, in the center, Baby Jesus, whom, seeing Him almost naked, we imagined to be shivering with cold, and it filled us with compassion.

We lived in the glorious time of myth. Myth expresses the truth better than pure and simple historical description. How do we speak of a God who became a Child, the mystery of man, his salvation, good and evil, except by telling stories, projecting myths that reveal the deep meaning of such facts? The stories of Jesus' birth told in the gospels contain historical elements, but to emphasize its religious significance, they have been coated with mythological and symbolic language. For us kids, all this was truth that we enthusiastically embraced.

Even before the thirteenth salary check was introduced, teachers were paid a Christmas bonus. My father spent all this money to buy gifts for his 11 children. And they were gifts that came from afar and all were instructive: cards with names of the main musicians, of famous painters whose names we struggled to pronounce and laughed at their beards or their noses or any other peculiarity. A gift made a fortune: a box of materials to build a house or a castle. We, the older ones, began to participate in modernity -- we won a jeep or a little car that was pulled by a rope, or a wheel that spun and threw sparks and the like.

So that there would be no fighting about each present below, the name of the son or daughter was hung from the branches. And later, the negotiations and trading began. The irrefutable proof that Baby Jesus in fact had passed by the house was the disappearance of the bundles of fresh grass. We ran to check. And, indeed, the little mule had eaten all of it.

Today we live in times of reason and demythologizing. But that is only true for us adults. Children, both with Santa Claus and to a lesser extent with Baby Jesus, live in an enchanted dream world. The good old man brings gifts and gives good advice. As I have a white beard, every child who passes by me calls me Santa Claus. I explain to them that I'm just Santa's brother who has come to see if the children are doing everything right. Then I tell Santa Claus so that they get a good present. Yet many doubt. They approach, stroke my beard, and say that in fact the man is Santa Claus himself. I'm a person like any other, but the myth makes me really Santa Claus.

If we adults, children of criticism and demythologizing, can no longer be enchanted, let's allow our sons and daughters to delight in and enjoy the magical realm of fantasy. Their lives will be full of meaning and joy. What more do we want for Christmas than these precious gifts that Jesus also wants to bring to this world?

The Church Fathers of Latin America

by Jesús Espeja (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Iglesia se hace diálogo blog

On December 21st 500 years ago on Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, Fray Antonio Montesinos delivered the famous sermon denouncing the abuses of the colonizers against the defenseless indigenous people (see video re-enactment below). That denunciation and similar ones in different regions of the Indies were the first cry of a Church that, especially in the 20th century, rejuvenated Latin America and is light for all Christian communities in the world. The subject well deserves a reflection on this day.

Whether in favor or against, who hasn't heard of "liberation theology"? It was a very significant movement in the middle of the last century in Latin America, especially after Vatican II. Its starting point was reality: the impoverished majority whose exclusion was now humanly intolerable and who lifted their voices to get out of an inhumane situation.

Christian sensitivities that experienced a compassionate God as revealed in Jesus Christ's historical actions could not remain impassive to that righteous cry, and logically the Church sided with the poor. And the Church wasn't just the theologians with their reflections, nor was it just the so-called base Christian communities that had been born among the poor and simple people, thanks to the Holy Spirit. It was also the bishops in the General Conferences. From the one held at Medellin in 1968 to the one that took place in Aparecida in 2007, the bishops have remained faithful to the preferential option for the poor.

It's true that the Roman Curia still has its reservations about this movement. But it is also true that this movement of the poor, processed through theological reflection, was accepted at the General Conferences of the Latin American bishops, and has been encouraged in the speeches of the last three popes. How can one not see this acceptance in the 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis? There are many currents in this theological movement, and it isn't fair to just talk about liberation theology, whether speaking ill or well of it. But at least it's a line I know a bit about; it seems to me to be very evangelical and scientifically serious.

Just as an example, there are names like Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, Jon Sobrino and others to whom we owe theological reflections that have been partially heard and could be very healthy for European theology. This theology has somehow received an endorsement at the CELAM General Conferences, which have been implementing Vatican II's invitation to read the signs of the times and discern in them the signs of the Holy Spirit.

We have a good basis to conclude that there is a tradition in the Latin American Church. Montesinos, Bartolomé de Las Casas and other prophets were its first Fathers. But that tradition is alive and has been renewed in others like bishops Helder Cámara, Evaristo Arns, Leónidas Proaño, Samuel Ruiz, Mons. Romero, Méndez Arceo, Jesús Calderón, Silva Henriquez, Gerardi, Pedro Casaldáliga, Tomás Balduino, Raúl Vera, Julio Cabrera, Ramazzini...

That tradition has been -- and continues to be -- a grace for the whole Church that we should celebrate with gratitude as we remember Montesinos' sermon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How does one govern seven billion people?

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)

Last week we dealt with the challenge of feeding seven billion people. The increase in global population is at a growing rate -- in 1802, we were one billion, in 1927, 2 billion, in 1961, 3 billion, in 1974, 4 billion, in 1987, 5 billion, by 1999, 6 billion, and finally, in 2011, 7 billion. In 2025, if there is no abrupt warming, we will be 8 billion, in 2050, 9 billion, and in 2070, 10 billion. There are biologists like Lynn Margulis and Enzo Tiezzi who see in the acceleration a sign of the end of the species, like bacteria when they are placed in a closed container (a Petri dish). Sensing the end of nutrients, they multiply exponentially, and then, suddenly, all die. Would this be the last flowering of the peach tree before it dies?

Regardless of this threatening issue, we have an exciting challenge -- how does one govern 7 billion people? It's the subject of global governance, i.e. a multipolar center with the role of democratically coordinating the coexistence of human beings in the same country and Common Home. This configuration is a requirement of globalization, because it involves the interweaving of all with all within the same single living space. Sooner or later global governance will emerge, since it is a requirement that cannot be postponed to address global problems and ensure the sustainability of the Earth.

The idea itself isn't new. It was already present as an idea in Erasmus and Kant, but it acquired its first real contours with the League of Nations after the First World War, and definitely after the Second World War with the United Nations. The latter doesn't work because of undemocratic veto power of some countries that make any global initiative against their interests unviable. Organizations like the IMF, the World Bank, World Trade Organization, WHO, ILO, GATT and UNESCO are expressions of the presence of some global governance.

Currently, the worsening of systemic problems like global warming, water shortages, maldistribution of food, the financial and economic crisis and wars calls for global governance.

The U.N. Commission on Global Governance defines it as "the sum of many ways individuals and institutions manage their common affairs and resolve diverse interests in a cooperative manner. It includes not only intergovernmental relations but also NGOs, grassroots movements, multinational corporations and global capital markets."

This globalization is also at the cybernetic level, through global networks, a kind of governance without government. Terrorism has caused a security governance in the threatened countries. There's a perverse global governance that we could call governance of global corporate power formed by the great economic and financial consortia which are organized in a concentric manner until arriving at a small group that controls about 80% of the economic process. This has been demonstrated by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Research (ETH) that competes in quality with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has been exposed among us by the PUC-SP economist Ladislau Dowbor. This power is not well-known, but it has a major influence in world politics starting from the economy.

These are the basic contents of healthy global governance: peace and security, avoiding the use of violent resolution, combatting hunger and poverty for millions of people, education accessible to everyone so that they can be protagonists in history, health care as a fundamental human right, basic decent housing, personal, social, cultural and gender human rights, rights of Mother Earth and nature, preserved for us and future generations.

To ensure these minimum things, common to all humans and also to the community of life, we need to decrease the figure of the nation states which are tending towards disappearing in the name of the unification of the human species on planet Earth.

Just as there is only one Earth, one humanity and one common destiny, a single form of governance must emerge, unique and complex, that will take charge of this new global reality and allow the continuation of human civilization.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

30th Anniversary of Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House

Friday night, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, DC celebrated its 30th anniversary with a Mass with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, followed by cake and other light refreshments.

Many former residents of the house returned for the occasion and told stories from the house's genealogy -- the first Catholic Worker house in this line (there is a separate lineage for the Michael Kirwan Catholic Worker houses) in the early 1980s as part of N Street Village where the late Fr. Dick McSorley lived, then St. Francis House (which also spawned the St. Francis CW retreat house in Spotsylvania, VA).

It was a lighthearted occasion punctuated by music from members of one of the choirs of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Arlington, VA, which enjoys a strong informal relationship with this Catholic Worker community both in the hospitality ministry and in joint peace activities through Pax Christi.