Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Birth!

by José Arregi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
December 24, 2013

Friends, in the clarity of your days or the middle of your night, listen again to the voice of the Christmas angel: "Fear not. I proclaim to you a great joy." And the simplest sign is enough: "A child is born to you." When are children not born in spite of general hardship? In the manger where I live, in Arroa Behea, two children were born this year: Marena on the second and Josu on the fourth. And how they smile! How Izaro who is only six weeks old smiles too, placid as an island, bright as a star!

Every birth is a sign, a huge miracle, a beautiful promise, a deep call. Living is a miracle. Just existing is already a miracle. And the greatest miracle is the tenderness that cares, nurtures, and counsels. That is "God", and it doesn't matter whether you give Him a name or not. He Is What He Is. And it's very different from what we insinuate when we say "There is what there is." No. What He Is is infinitely more and better than what there is. So the angel proclaimed to some poor shepherds in Bethlehem out in the open air in the middle of the night: "Fear not. A child has been born to you. His name is Jesus -- 'God saves'. He is Emmanuel -- 'God with us'."

It is Christian metaphorical language, you would say. Yes, and it deserves huge esteem, deep consideration, if only for having inspired so many beautiful poems and melodies, having comforted the many sorrows of poor people, for having encouraged so much kindness and so much just struggle despite all the failures. I don't want to dispense with the language of angels and shepherds, glorias and mangers. I don't want to do without Jesus, the human flesh of God, the Mystery of the world.

But I don't want to lock Jesus in exclusivist denominational thinking, as if he were the only incarnation of God. Nor do I want to define God according to a dualistic schema, as if He were an Entity or a Somebody. He is much more, He is the Infinite Mystery. When the Christian confesses that God became flesh in Jesus, he is basically confessing the same thing all believers of all traditions and non-believing poets of all time have expressed -- that whatever is is inhabited by the unspeakable Infinite, Beauty that enraptures, embracing Kindness, and that we can always trust despite everything, and recreate the world every day as we remake the Nativity scene each year.

I don't know if you put up a Nativity scene in your home -- the angel, the grotto, the shepherds, the ox and ass, and Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus. It's all so endearing! Put it your way. Put kindness and tenderness. Life is hard, the year has been difficult, and the future...who knows about the future? But fear not. Take care of your life, care for your soul, care for your own, care for all beings.

And look at it all with new eyes. Everything is miracle and promise of Presence. Nothing is what it seems. Everything is constantly being and being reborn in Another Reality, towards a Different Reality present and possible. Celebrate the Birth of life in your home. Look with the eyes of a child. The eyes of a child are enough to light up all the darkness in the world, in Lampedusa and Melilla, in Africa and in neglected Latin America.

And all beings. All beings proclaim the same thing as the good and cheerful angel of Bethlehem: "Fear not, blessed creature. You come from Beauty, you come from Goodness. You are more precious than all the precious stones, much more than all the gold, incense and myrrh. Believe in your blessing, blessed creature. Be a blessing, bring blessing in your small wounded hands, in your little beating heart."

Look, the gorse, the primroses and Joseph's flowers are already blooming in the heart of winter, gladdening the bare mountain and shady paths. See it? See each being as a humble sign of that "Goodness which is the source of all things and that some day will be wholly in all beings," as says the biographer who looked at all things, Francis of Assisi, inventor of the Nativity.

If you look in that way, you will be born again and a different world will be born. Merry Christmas!

Open to God's plan

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
December 29, 2013

Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23

The gospel accounts leave no doubt whatsoever. According to Jesus, God has a great plan: to build in the world a big human family. Drawn by this plan, Jesus devotes himself entirely to everyone seeing God as Father and learning to live together as brothers and sisters. This is the way that leads to the salvation of the human species.

For some, the current family is being ruined because the traditional ideal of the "Christian family" has been lost. For others, any novelty is progress towards a new society. But what is a family that is open to the humanizing plan of God like? What features could we highlight?

Love between the spouses. That's the first thing. The home is alive when the parents love each other, mutually support one another, share sorrows and joys, forgive one another, talk and trust each other. The family begins to be dehumanized when selfishness, arguments, and misunderstanding increase.

Relationship between parents and children. Love between the spouses isn't enough. When parents and children are at odds and there's hardly any communication, family life becomes impossible, joy disappears, everyone suffers. The family needs a climate of mutual trust to think about the good of all.

Attention to the most vulnerable. Everyone should find acceptance, support and understanding in their home. But the family becomes more human especially when the littlest ones are cared for with love and affection, when the elderly are loved respectfully and patiently, when the sick and disabled are tended to solicitously, when the one who is having a hard time isn't abandoned.

Openness to the needy. A family works for a more humane world when it isn't closed in on its own problems and interests but is open to the needs of other families: broken homes that are experiencing painful conflictive situations and need support and understanding, families without work or any income that need material aid, immigrant families that are asking for acceptance and friendship.

Growth in faith. In the family one learns to live out the most important things. Therefore it's the best place to learn to believe in that good God, Father of all, to get to know Jesus' lifestyle, to discover his Good News, to pray together around the table, to take part in the community life of the followers of Jesus. These Christian families contribute to building that more just, worthy and happy world desired by God. They are a blessing to society.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The materialism of Santa Claus and spirituality of the Child Jesus

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Leonardo Boff Blog (em português)
December 21, 2013

One day, the Son of God wanted to know how the children whom, when he used to walk among us, he would touch and bless and would say "Let the children come to me...for the kingdom of God belongs to them" (Luke 18:16), were doing.

As in the ancient myths, he mounted a celestial lightning bolt and came down to Earth a few weeks before Christmas. He took the form of a street-sweeper who cleaned the streets. Thus he could better see the passersby, the shops all lit up and filled with objects wrapped for gifts, and especially his younger brothers and sisters who wandered around poorly dressed, many of them hungry and begging alms. He grieved greatly because he found that hardly anyone followed the words that he had left: "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me." (Mark 9:37)

And he also saw that no one was talking about the Child Jesus who comes, secretly, on Christmas Eve, bringing gifts for all children. His place was taken by a good-natured old man, dressed in red with a bag on his back and a long beard who foolishly yells at all hours, "Ho! Ho! Ho! ... look at Santa Claus here." Yes, on the streets and inside the big stores there he was, hugging the children and taking from the bag the gifts that the parents had purchased and placed there. It's said he came from afar, from Finland, riding a sleigh pulled by reindeer. People had forgotten another old man, a truly good one: St. Nicholas. From a wealthy family, he gave Christmas gifts to poor children saying it was the Child Jesus who had sent them. No one was talking about any of this. They only spoke of Santa Claus, invented over a hundred years ago.

As sad as seeing the children abandoned in the streets was realizing that they were being deceived, seduced by the lights and the glow of gifts, the toys and a thousand other things that fathers and mothers usually buy as presents to be distributed at the Christmas supper.

Ads, many of them misleading, were screaming loudly, stirring up desire in the children who later ran to their parents, begging them to buy what they saw. The Child Jesus dressed as a street-sweeper realized that what the angels sang at night in the fields of Bethlehem -- "Behold, I proclaim to you great joy for all the people because today a Savior has been born to you... Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will" (Luke 2:10-14) -- meant nothing anymore. Love had been replaced by things, and the joviality of God who became a child had disappeared in the name of the pleasure of consumption.

Saddened, he took another celestial lightning bolt and before returning to heaven, he wrote a short letter for the children. It was found under the front doors of the houses and of the hovels in the hills above the city called favelas in particular. The Child Jesus wrote:

My dear little brothers and sisters,

If you are looking at the manger and see the Child Jesus there and are filled with faith that he is the Son of God the Father who became a little boy, a boy like one of us and that he is the God-Brother who is always with us,

If you can see in other boys and girls, especially the poor ones, the hidden presence of the Child Jesus being born within them,

If you can make the child hidden inside your parents and adults be reborn so that love, tenderness, affection, caring and friendship emerge in them instead of many presents,

If, when you look at the manger, you discover Jesus poorly clad, almost naked, and remember the many children who are equally poor and poorly dressed and you suffer in the depths of your hearts because of this inhumane situation and decide starting now, that when you grow up, you will change these things so that there won't be children crying from hunger and cold anymore,

If you notice the three wise men with gifts for the Child Jesus and think that even the kings, the great and wise of this world, recognize the hidden greatness of this little boy who whimpers in the straw,

If, when you see all those animals in the manger, like the sheep, the ox, and the cow, you think that the whole universe is also illuminated by the Child Jesus and that we all -- the galaxies, stars, suns, Earth, other natural beings and we ourselves -- make up the great House of God,

If you look up and see a star with its tail and remember that there is always a Star like the one at Bethlehem above you, illuminating you and showing you the best paths,

If you sharpen your ears and hear from your inner senses, celestial music like that of the angels in the fields of Bethlehem announcing peace on earth,

Then you will know that it is I, the Child Jesus, who is coming again and renewing Christmas. I will always be near you, walking with you, crying with you, and frolicking with you until that day when we all -- humankind and universe -- come to the House of the Father and Mother of infinite goodness to be eternally happy together as one big reunited family.

Bethlehem, December 25 of year 1.
Signed: The Child Jesus

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Meaning of Bethlehem

By Fr. Miguel Cruzado, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La República
December 19, 2013

The Catholic Church is experiencing a time of reform and renewal whose historical range we cannot yet measure. Pope Francis, following the spirit of the conclave that elected him, is reviewing the government of the Church, its resource management, the training of its pastors, and the way we take responsibility for and correct mistakes. Pastoral care of the family will be reviewed at the next synod and all this may bring changes in Church law. However, along with the institutional structures, the Pope is stressing the importance of an inner renewal which means a real transformation in the sensibilities of believers and bears a sign for all humanity: "I dream of a missionary option...capable of transforming everything,...customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language," says Pope Francis.

The sensibility -- that deep feeling that becomes natural virtue -- isn't guided by decree or pure will. It involves discernment and a willingness to let be and take root in us that which we deem precious and true. In that journey, there are experiences and moments that can especially shape and transform us. Christmas time is one of those for believers, probably because in the event at Bethlehem the Christian message is clearly displayed and the meaning of the gospel is evident and overwhelming.

Bethlehem is the place of simplicity and authenticity. In Bethlehem, everything is simple and true; there is no artifice. God reveals Himself beautifully and simply -- a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, a manger, a star. The Son of God, God Himself, has been born to us and is a baby in a manger. The Truth is revealed transparently, without robes or tinsel, in swaddling clothes under the light of the stars.

Bethlehem ought to develop in us a sensitivity to what is authentic and simple, starting with naturally asking ourselves whether it might not be possible to celebrate and be happy with fewer things and giving ourselves more time to really get to know and recognize each other. The Church, in the words of the Pope, warns us of the emptiness of things and religiosity in appearance only. It's time to "recover the original freshness of the Gospel."

Bethlehem is also the school of trust and acceptance. The Savior of the world is a baby offered to the world, all acceptance and possibility. The child who didn't find an inn in which to be born, receives shepherds and merchants out in the open. He doesn't shut himself in or protect himself. In the event at Bethlehem, there are no protective walls. Bethlehem is "the open house of the Father."

The sensibility of Bethlehem ought to lead us to "build bridges not walls" in relation to others. It ought to help free us from the violence and contempt with which we Peruvians can treat each other. Bring us as a Church to be more of a community -- less concerned with requirements and sides, always trying to love more and judge less. A "Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets", trying to tend to others, to those who most need us.

It is the appropriate time to delve into a sensibility of the authentic. Although it is not always easy to accept our stories, humanly and spiritually we can not grow without being. Time to delve into the simple which might shimmer tentatively but never hides the beautiful and always prevents false connections and empty hopes. Time for a sensibility of trust and acceptance that "in contact with the concrete existence of others" shows us the "strength of tenderness", makes injustice unbearable to us and reconciliation possible.

Let's hope this meaning of Bethlehem impregnates much more our Christian way of being, that our ethics become enriched with criteria of authenticity, simplicity of life, and caring for others, and that it influences the way we organize our common life. So that, as the carols say, the whole year can be Christmas.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Inner experience

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
December 22, 2013

Matthew 1:18-24

Matthew the evangelist had a special interest in telling his readers that Jesus must also be called "Emmanuel". He knows very well that this could be shocking and strange. Who could be called by a name that means "God with us"? However, this name contains the core of Christian faith and is the center of the Christmas celebration.

That ultimate mystery that surrounds us on all sides and that we believers call "God" isn't something distant and far away. He is with each and every one of us. How can I know? Is it possible to reasonably believe that God is with me if I haven't had any personal experience however small?

Ordinarily, we Christians have not been taught to perceive the presence of the mystery of God within us. Therefore, many imagine Him in some undefined abstract place in the universe. Others seek Him by worshiping Christ present in the Eucharist. Quite a few try to hear Him in the Bible. For others, the best way is Jesus.

The mystery of God undoubtedly has its ways to make itself present in each life. But one could say that in the current culture, if we don't experience Him within ourselves in some way, it will be hard for us to find Him outside. On the contrary, if we perceive His presence within ourselves, it will be much easier for us to trace His mystery in our surroundings.

Is it possible? The secret is, above all, knowing how to be with our eyes closed and in peaceful silence, welcoming with a simple heart that mysterious presence that encourages and sustains us. It's not about thinking about that, but "welcoming" the peace, life, love, forgiveness...that comes to us from our innermost being.

It is normal, as we enter our own mystery, to meet our fears and worries, our hurts and sorrows, our mediocrity and our sin. We should not fret but remain in the silence. The friendly presence who is in our innermost depths will soothe, free, and heal us.

Karl Rahner, one of the most important theologians of the twentieth century, states that, in the midst of the secular society of our times, "this experience of the heart is the only one through which the Christmas message of faith can be understood: God has become man." The ultimate mystery of life is a mystery of kindness, forgiveness, and salvation that is within us -- within each and every one of us. If we receive Him in silence, we will know the joy of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Teresa Forcades and Esther Vivas: "The challenge is to turn this social majority that is suffering the consequences of the crisis into a political majority"

By Alex Gil Lara (English translation by Rebel Girl)
December 15, 2013

They are two of the most visible leaders of Procés Constituent in Catalonia, but their thesis doesn't stop at the sovereignty demand, but rather they argue that capitalism is incompatible with real radical democracy. This Monday they are presenting their book Sin miedo ("No Fear") in Madrid.

The PhD in Public Health from the University of Barcelona, Teresa Forcades, a Benedictine nun at the monastery of Sant Benet de Montserrat, and the journalist and political activist Esther Vivas converse in the book Sin miedo that is being presented this Monday, December 16th, in the Teatro del Barrio in Madrid. The two agree on the initiative for the Procés Constituent, a movement that is seeking to create the most unified candidacy possible which will run in the next Catalan regional elections. In the book, they go over the causes of the crisis, the delegitimization of the political and economic system, repression and criminalization of protest, the expansion of civil disobedience, alternatives to the current regime, the new politics and the rise of nationalism in Catalonia.

The book is titled Sin Miedo. "No Fear"...of what?

Esther Vivas: Well, what we've seen for a while is that power wants a society of fear, for people to be afraid of change or of imagining that another system is possible. Indeed, apathy, resignation, and fear represent the great victory of the capitalist system, making us believe that we can't change things. It's the message, the discourse with which we've always been inoculated. These are false truths, the myths upon which the system is based: "Nothing can be changed, there is no alternative". But today, in the current crisis, more and more people realize that the system is broken, that capitalism is incompatible with life, freedom, democracy, justice, with people's basic rights. Capitalism does business and the crisis unmasks the system. From here, there is an urgent need to change things. Health care, education, housing, food ... all these can't be a business in the hands of capital, of companies, but have to be universal basic rights. That fear they wanted to put into us, is now beginning to change sides.

Teresa Forcades: No fear that the organized struggle for an alternative to capitalism could lead us to a worse situation than the one we have. Chances are that it would lead us to a situation which, although it would be nothing ideal, would be much better than the current one in terms of respect for basic rights and freedoms. In Iceland, for example, they don't have paradise, but they stood their ground and now they don't have the debt that we have.

This fear you're talking about, does it serve as an instrument of control in our society?

TF: I think there are two kinds of fear that are socially relevant now. One is the fear of being without work or being homeless or undocumented. That fear is due to a real cause and must be respected. You can't encourage people to individually fight for a better world because they won't succeed and will pay a very high price. But fighting alone or in isolation is one thing -- which I don't recommend -- and organizing politically is quite different. That's the second fear: that this organization might end badly. I think this second fear isn't due to any real cause. I think it's due to alienation that we should get shed of the sooner the better. If we do, no one will stop this revolution.

EV: The repressive measures that are approved either by the Catalan government or the Spanish government, show they can't control the situation the easy way. Because the people are becoming aware, mobilizing and being disobedient, the criminalization strategy is the response. The Penal Code is amended, the Public Safety Act, etc. This is another example of the need the powers have to control the situation. Their greatest victory is making us believe we can't change anything, but with the emergence of the indignados movement (the "outraged") and the depth of the crisis, people are beginning to see the need to change things.

Do you think the capitalist system is incompatible with democracy?

EV: Totally. This is another myth of the system: capitalism is synonymous with democracy. The idea is that democracy is only possible with capitalism, but instead the system does not allow real true and radical democracy. We have numerous examples. When the people take to the streets, demonstrate, hold an escrache [small, targeted picket protest] or surround Congress, they're called anti-democratic, coup supporters, filoetarras [ETA lovers] ... The Government's response to the emancipatory and fully democratic aspirations of society is repression and fear. This on the one hand, and on the other, in 2011, we saw how there have been coup d'etats by the markets. The financial elites replaced Berlusconi with Monti, a technocrat, and Papandreou with Papademos, another technocrat. When capitalism comes through the door, democracy goes out the window. They are incompatible systems and this is increasingly apparent to a great number of people.

TF: Yes it is, because, contrary to its official argument, capitalism is not for freedom but for strict regulation which protects the interests of the richest people at the expense of the survival possibility of many millions and at the expense of the welfare of the majority. For example, this week I read in the New York Times that since the fall of the Berlin Wall -- since capitalism has been without a rival on the international level -- more than 3,000 international treaties have been signed aimed at protecting the interests of large multinational against governments. In Namibia, for example, the government has failed to implement the anti-tobacco laws that its parliament adopted because Phillip Morris has sued it for threatening its interests.

Throughout the book, you argue that social change is unstoppable. How can that change be promoted?

TF: I think it will only be if two conditions are met. One is the activation of political protagonism, ie, lose the fear and get organized. The second is unity in diversity -- not pretending to form a homogeneous front, being able to join with people who come from different political, social, and national traditions and sensibilities, to carry out the break from the current model.

EV: First, by proposing alternatives. To be able to assert other policies -- that  different system -- the recovery of democracy involves becoming aware of who wins and who loses from the current situation. Organizing, fighting, mobilizing, committing disobedience ... these are all essential tools and elements to change things. Regaining democracy involves getting outraged. This is the key. And the crisis, although it leads to a situation of social bankruptcy, social tragedy, also offers the opportunity for society to realize the undemocratic nature of the capitalist system, the subordination of policy to economic and financial interests. I think it's the first step to changing things. Awareness is essential to move to action and work with that goal.

It doesn't seem like that's the current dynamic.

EV: Social movements are cyclical and we had an outbreak here, a boiling up of dissatisfaction, of outrage in May 2011 and the following months. Now we're in a different time of the protests, but I think we're in the same cycle of struggles. Today the political class is in great disrepute. The current political system, the institutions, are delegitimized and this offers the opportunity to change things. Bipartisanship is in crisis. When we look at Greece which, in a way, is a mirror of what's happening here, we see that the party system has broken down. More so here in Catalonia, especially with the crisis of the state model and the rise of sovereignism and the independence movement. This questioning opens a space. This is the challenge. I think that today there are many more people who have become aware of the situation than before the crisis and the emergence of 15-M. In my environment, I see many people, not very politicized, who are seeing how friends, relatives, neighbors are having trouble making ends meet, are without work, without income, evicted, etc. The impact of the crisis in everyday life is making them aware. You have to use this to explain the real causes of the crisis. And today, it's not just a handful saying "this is a racket, not just a crisis", it's many more. The challenge is to turn this social majority that suffers the consequences of the crisis in a political majority. Hence the importance of demanding, like right now in Catalonia, the need for a constitutional process, proposing policy alternatives to end the hegemony of a few who monopolize power to their benefit.

What does Procés Constituent entail for the current political landscape?

EV: It proposes a perspective of breaking away from the current institutional and policy framework. Reappropriating policies, the future, using the stage to bring the right to choose, transcending the prudish sovereignism Mas wants, that only proposes a free Catalonia. Mr. Mas also wants a constitutional process but done from above by the political and economic elites of the country. We have to use the debate on independence, on the national question, to be able to say we want to decide everything and we want to take this independence to its logical conclusion. This debate, Convergence or Union, won't guarantee it. Procés Constituent wants a free Catalonia, but also one that is free of poverty, evictions, misery, unemployment, hunger, corrupt politicians, thieving bankers. It wants to be able to decide everything. We have to equip ourselves with a framework that is decided by all the Catalan people. This may seem very abstract, but in some countries in Latin America there have been constitutional processes that have generated a new constitutional framework from popular participation. They're processes that in some cases have had, it's true, contradictory outcomes and have generated significant debate on the left. In any case, these experiences show us that change is possible. We have to learn from their successes and mistakes. A similar case might be Iceland, where the crisis followed a classical leftist government which failed to embody the hopes for change and renewal that society demanded and that had brought them to power. The grassroots Constitution froze. It faltered against the pressures of the European Union. The lesson is that the old left won't get us out of this crisis. Either we organize in a broad sense, or there's no alternative.

TF: Strictly speaking "constitutional process" means the process by which a new constitution is drafted and adopted. At present, in Catalonia, the growing social unrest caused by the cutbacks policies is being channeled toward the goal of independence. We believe that this is insufficient and we want to use the historical moment to push for break away change from the current system, both politically and socio-economically. Specifically, we have begun to organize from the grassroots in regional and sectoral meetings. We currently have about 110 assemblies and some 46,000 members. If we grow and consolidate enough, we will foster a united candidacy for the upcoming regional elections. If the candidacy obtains a majority, we will convene a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for a Catalan Republic and subsequently submit it to popular approval by referendum.

Does the current democratic framework allow social change?

EV: The current framework, formally, allows you to present yourself for election. Mobilize yourself, but now we see that when anger overflows because real democracy is required, it's repressed. In theory, the system guarantees rights which, in practice, it doesn't allow. We see this every day, on issues such as the right to housing. There are thousands of empty homes and thousands of families are being or have been evicted. Current social rights are the result of a struggle. Nobody will ever give us anything. Stoppping the cutbacks, this social emergency to which they've led us, and getting social improvements will be achieved through social mobilization and disobedience. Throughout history, disobedience has been key to achieving victories. If women have the right to vote it's because the suffragettes were disobedient, if military service was eliminated it's because a number of resisters went to jail, etc. Capitalism doesn't allow a number of rights; what is needed is winning them and imposing a different social system, a different model that breaks with the current system, from an anti-capitalist perspective of rupture.

Monday, December 16, 2013

While Pope Francis keeps the door shut, more women seek ordination

In September of this year, Juan Arias, a journalist for the Spanish newspaper El País, started rumors that, even though Pope Francis had reiterated his predecessor John Paul II's assertion that the door was closed on the question of women's ordination, there might be a route open for the pontiff to appoint the first woman cardinal. Although the Vatican immediately denied these assertions, the media swirled with the speculation and names of prominent Catholic laywomen who might be suitable candidates.

This month, in addition to his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which again put the lid on women's ordination with the pope's assertion that "the reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion" (EG 104), Pope Francis quashed the woman cardinal notion in an interview with La Stampa's Vatican Insider, saying, "I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not 'clericalised'. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism."

In our view, Pope Francis continues to fail in his explanations on this issue. How is it that ordaining men doesn't "clericalise" them, while ordaining women would? How do you "value" women short of true and complete equality, when power and decision-making ability in the Church ultimately rests with the ordained while women are denied the sacrament of Holy Orders? As long as the current system exists and women cannot be pastors, bishops, cardinals, and, yes, pope, women will not have real power in the Church and they will be de facto second-class citizens. All the romantic theological notions about Mary Mother of God being "greater" than the bishops, and male priests being the "Spouse" of the (female) Church cannot obscure this fundamental reality. Either the Pope needs to explain specifically how he plans to give women real authority in the Church -- real "value" as in "equal worth" because, of course, the patriarchy has always "valued" women who serve it faithfully and silently, or he needs to be quiet on this issue until he has something to say that doesn't deepen the existing wounds.

Meanwhile, away from the papal centers of power, the movement to ordain Roman Catholic women to the priesthood continues unabated. Women are not waiting for Pope Francis to revise his theology of women in the Church; they are being ordained in the line of apostolic succession and leading communities of Catholics who are looking for a more inclusive worship experience. We have already reported on the women who were ordained in April (1 priest), May (3 priests), and June (5 priests, 3 deacons). Now we will give an update on the rest of the 2013 women ordinands, including some earlier ordinations we didn't cover.

February 2013

On February 9, 2013, at the First Unitarian Church of Toledo, Ohio, Bishop Joan Houk of Roman Catholic Womenpriests ordained Rev. Beverly Bingle a priest and Ann Poelking Klonowski a deacon.

Before seeking ordination, Beverly Bingle, who retired in 2011 from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toledo, served in numerous capacities including pastoral associate at Blessed Sacrament parish. She had also worked as a director of religious education. Rev. Bingle holds a B.A. (The Ohio State University) and M.A. (Bowling Green State University) in English, an M.A. in Pastoral Ministry (Marygrove College) and a Doctor of Ministry (Ecumenical Theological Seminary). Asked by the local press why she was pursuing the priesthood, Bingle responded, "I got called. It starts with God. You know how whenever you're prompted to do something, you get the feeling it’s the right thing to do." She said she is not concerned about excommunication and believes she has simply failed to obey an unjust law. "I would not consider myself excommunicated," Bingle told the Toledo Blade. "In my opinion, my conscience tells me I am still a good practicing Catholic in good standing." Rev. Bingle is now pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Community which meets at Unity of Toledo. To the Sunday evening Mass at that location, the community has recently added a Saturday evening Mass and a Sunday morning Mass at 4:30 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. Sundays at the Interfaith Chapel of Toledo Campus Ministry. "No one will be excluded from communion," Rev. Bingle promises. Her homilies are published regularly on Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan's Blog.

September 2013

On September 7,2013, Ann Poelking Klonowski who had been ordained a deacon during the same February ceremony when Rev. Bingle was ordained a priest, was herself ordained a priest by Bishop Joan Houk in a ceremony at the Brecksville (Ohio) United Church of Christ.

Rev. Klonowski is a teacher who is currently coordinating a literacy program for urban first-graders. She has a degree in education from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in theology from John Carroll University. She spent more than 20 years teaching in Catholic high schools and colleges and another 15 years working for the Cleveland diocese. Klonowski, who hails from Independence, OH, says she has been called to the priesthood. "I'm here to serve the people of God," she told The Plain Dealer. She said that she considers herself a faithful Catholic. Against the official Roman Catholic Church's argument that women cannot be priests because Jesus did not ordain any women, Rev. Klonowski tartly responds, "Jesus didn't ordain any men, either." She says that this is simply not in the Bible. Rev. Klonowski, who is married and the mother of two children and a grandmother, says she plans to use her priesthood to lead house liturgies in her home. "I will keep my day job. We are worker priests. We're not subsidized by the diocese. We depend on ourselves for our income."

On September 15, 2013 at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, New York, Mary Theresa Streck was ordained a priest by Roman Catholic Woman Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan. In the same ceremony, Maureen McGill, of St. Petersburg, FL, and Mary Sue Barnett, of Louisville, KY, were ordained as deacons.

Rev. Streck was first called to religious life as nun, becoming a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet at the age of 17 and staying with the order 18 years until she fell in love with, and married, a Catholic priest, the late Jay Murnane. The couple, who sought dispensation from their vows, founded and ran the Ark Community Charter School in Troy, New York. Streck says she wanted to be ordained "to facilitate bringing people together to celebrate Eucharist and all celebrate Eucharist together. We are all saying the words of Consecration and all praying together in a community of equals." Rev. Streck is now pastoring the Inclusive Catholic Community of Albany which meets irregularly for Mass at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Albany.

As for the newly ordained deacons, Maureen McGill is a teacher and mentor in feminist spirituality connected with the Atman Center in St. Petersburg (Pinellas Park), Florida. She has a J.D. in Law and a Masters in Pastoral Studies. She is a retired attorney and has spent most of her legal career advocating for abused and neglected children. Mary Sue Barnett went on to be ordained a priest in December and biographical details about her can be found further down.

On September 22, 2013 at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Irene Senn was ordained a Roman Catholic Woman Priest by Bishop Regina Nicolosi. In her homily, Bishop Nicolosi instructed Rev. Senn, "I know you are aware of the awesome responsibility to lead the community in the celebration of these great mysteries. And don’t believe those who say you cannot function in persona Christi because you are a woman. Both you and the community will represent our brother Jesus, every time you celebrate the Eucharist, as we do today." She urged Senn to "go to your brothers and sisters, go to your community and let them feed you."

Rev. Senn says her journey to ordination began many years ago. She received a Masters in Divinity from St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee in 1992. Before her decision to become a Roman Catholic woman priest, Senn served for over 20 years as the Director of the Office of Peace, Justice, and Integrity of Creation for the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi in Milwaukee. She and her husband Bob have four children and eight grandchildren.

October 2013

On October 19, 2013, Helen Moorman Umphrey was ordained a priest at Sophia Christi Community in Portland, Oregon, by Roman Catholic Woman Bishop Olivia Doko. In a brief statement of thanks posted in the community's newsletter, Umphrey expressed special gratitude to Bob Larroque, a male deacon in the official Roman Catholic Church who decided to retire from active ministry "until women were given an opportunity to be involved in diaconal and priestly ministry." She also thanked the community's current pastor, Rev. Toni Tortorilla, for mentoring her.

Rev. Umphrey is also a former nun, having entered the Sisters of the Precious Blood in Dayton, Ohio in her teens, where she remained for 26 years. She has served as a teacher, principal, parish music minister, and in administration for the community. She is married and lives in Battle Ground, WA where she has served in the parish as a Director of Religious Education and Pastoral Associate for 25 years. She is now retired, but continues many Catholic/Christian group processes from her home. She has a BA from the University of Dayton, and an MA in Pastoral Ministry from St. Mary's University in Winona, WI.

December 2013

On December 8, at the Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, Roman Catholic Woman Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan ordained Mary Sue Barnett of Louisville to the priesthood. Denise Menard Davis and Betty Smith of Louisville, Mary Weber of Indianapolis, and Ann Harrington of Greenville, NC were ordained to the diaconate in the same ceremony.

Rev. Barnett who is married and the mother of two children, has taught at several Catholic institutions, including Presentation Academy, Assumption High School, Spalding University and St. Catharine College. She will begin offering liturgy on She December 21st at First Unitarian Church on Fourth Street in Louisville. Barnett has a Master’s in Religious Studies and a Master’s in Biblical Studies. She mentors a young adult faith activist group called Revealing Sophia’s Truth and is an active campaigner for the ratification of the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Denise Menard Davis of Louisville, a wife, mother and grandmother, brings the experience of having taught and served high school and university students in Kentucky and California. Ann Harrington of Greenville, NC, has been married for 36 years and is a mother to four sons, a spiritual director and community builder. Betty H. Smith, 79, of Louisville has taught in local Catholic elementary schools and served as principal at Mother of Good Counsel and St. Barnabas. She has four children, three stepchildren, 13 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Mary Weber of Indianapolis is a wife, mother and grandmother who served as a pastoral associate, a social worker and hospital administrator.

Healing wounds

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
December 15, 2013

Matthew 11:2-11

Jesus' actions left John the Baptist baffled. He was expecting a Messiah who would extirpate sin by imposing God's strict judgment, not a Messiah devoted to healing wounds and alleviating suffering. From prison in Machaerus he sends a message to Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come, or must we wait for another?"

Jesus answers with his life as prophet-healer: "Tell John what you are hearing and seeing: the blind see and the disabled walk, the lepers are clean and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them." This is the true Messiah -- the one who comes to alleviate suffering, heal life, and open a horizon of hope for the poor.

Jesus feels sent by a merciful Father who wants a more dignified and happy world for all. So, he devotes himself to healing wounds, curing ailments and liberating life. And that's why he asks everyone to "be merciful as your Father is merciful."

Jesus doesn't feel he has been sent by a stern Judge to judge sinners and condemn the world. So he doesn't frighten anyone with judging gestures but offers sinners and prostitutes his friendship and forgiveness. And so he asks everyone to "judge not and you shall not be judged."

Jesus never heals arbitrarily or purely for sensationalism. He heals moved by compassion, seeking to restore the life of these sick, beaten down and broken people. They are the first who are to experience that God is a friend of dignified and healthy life.

Jesus never emphasizes the prodigious nature of his healings, nor does he think of them as an easy recipe to eliminate suffering in the world. He presents his healing activity as a sign to show us, his followers the way we are to act to make way for that humanizing project of the Father which he called the "kingdom of God."

Pope Francis states that "healing wounds" is an urgent task: "I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity...That's the first thing: healing wounds, healing wounds." Then he talks about "taking responsibility for the people and accompanying them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbor." He also speaks of "walking through the dark night with people, knowing how to dialogue and even descending into their night, into the darkness, but without getting lost."

When entrusting his mission to the disciples, Jesus doesn't imagine them as doctors, hierarchs, liturgists or theologians, but as healers. Their task will be twofold: proclaim that the Kingdom of God is near and heal the sick.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Traveling new paths

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
December 8, 2013

Matthew 3:1-12

Around the year 27 or 28, an original and independent prophet appeared in the desert of Jordan who made a strong impact on the Jewish people -- the first generations of Christians always saw him as the man who prepared the way for Jesus. His whole message could be condensed in one cry: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths." After twenty centuries, Pope Francis is shouting the same message to us Christians: Open the way for God, come back to Jesus, receive the Gospel.

His purpose is clear: "We are seeking to be a Church that finds new ways." It won't be easy. We have spent these last years paralyzed by fear. The Pope isn't surprised: "Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives." And he asks us a question which we are to answer: "Are we determined to strike out along the new paths which God's newness sets before us, or do we barricade ourselves in outdated structures which have lost their capacity to respond?"

Some sectors of the Church are asking the Pope to undertake various reforms they consider urgent as soon as possible. However, Francis has expressed his position clearly: "Some are expecting and have asked me for reforms in the Church and there should be. But first, a change in attitude is necessary."

Pope Francis' gospel foresight seems admirable to me. The first thing isn't signing reformist decrees. First, it's necessary to put the Christian communities in a state of conversion and recover within the Church the most basic gospel attitudes. Only in that climate will it be possible to undertake efficiently and with a gospel spirit the reforms the Church urgently needs.

Francis is showing us every day the changes in attitude that we need. I will point out some very important ones. Putting Jesus at the center of the Church: "A Church that doesn't lead to Jesus is a dead Church." Not living in a closed and self-referential Church: "A Church that is locked in the past betrays its own identity." Acting always motivated by God's mercy towards all His children: Not cultivating a "restorationist and legalistic Christianity that wants everything clear and secure, and finds nothing." "Seeking a poor Church and for the poor." Anchoring our lives in hope, not "in our rules, our ecclesial behavior, our clericalisms."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas in Bethlehem and Lampedusa

by Pedro Casaldáliga (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
December 5, 2013

"There is no room for them" still,
neither in Bethlehem nor in Lampedusa.

Is Christmas an irony?
If your "Kingdom is not of this world",
what are you doing here,
subversive party pooper?

To be God-with-us,
you must dwell in helplessness,
with the poor of the Earth,
like this, small, like this,
stripped of all glory,
with no power but failure,
no place but death,
but knowing that the Kingdom
is your Father's dream
and our dream too.

There is still Christmas,
in the Peace of Hope,
in lives shared,
in struggle and solidarity,
Kingdom within, Kingdom within!

Christmas 2013
New Year's Day 2014
Pedro Casaldáliga

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Bergoglio saved me by misleading the secret police"

A new book by Italian journalist Nello Scavo, La Lista di Bergoglio: I salvati da Francisco durante la dittatura (EMI, 2013), with a preface by Nobel prize winner and human rights activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel, offers personal accounts of those who say that Pope Francis helped them during the period of the dictatorship in Argentina. The book will be published in Spanish this month by Publicaciones Claretianas, with the title La Lista de Bergoglio. In this excerpt published in the Spanish newspaper La Razón (11/30/2013), Fr. José Luis Caravias, a Spanish Jesuit now residing in Paraguay who got caught in the repression, explains how Pope Francis helped him during this diffcult period in his life and Argentina's history.

"I was dragged into a police van. The journey lasted a few hours. I didn't realize where I was being taken. Then they opened the door, pushed me out and sped off." When they left, Father Jose Luis Caravias found himself in Clorinda, in Argentina. No money, no documents, no clothes. Paraguay was behind him. It happened on May 5, 1972, the day of his expulsion. One of many. Various vicissitudes awaited him in obtaining asylum from the democratically elected government of Buenos Aires.

José Luis Caravias (below) has the strong hands of a campesino and a good-natured grin. You just have to look him in the eye to realize he has many stories to tell. To the forty books he has written about issues of genuine theology, as well as economics and sociology, he adds a blog where he doesn't stop expressing what he thinks about the evolution of Latin America. That is now his land. What remains from desolate Andalusia is his way of dreaming of the world Cervantes sought.

"I knew the ferocity of dictatorship. I experienced it in the flesh." The Spanish Jesuit was welcomed by his Argentine brothers, but the situation was becoming precipitous there too. "The alarm signal was the death of Father Mauricio Silva, the street sweeper priest, who died after brutal torture and deprivation. I realized that this was not just one episode. I knew because things were going the same way in Paraguay too"(...). "It's not the time to be heroes," Bergoglio would say a while later to the most exposed priests. "But Jalics and Yorio refused to listen," says Caravias. "On the other hand, he was right. As in the case of Father Silva, the death of the murdered priests would not achieve changing the plans of the dictatorship or arousing popular indignation that might have frightened the regime."

Fear was stronger than the truth. However, Father Caravias didn't learn the lesson either at that time. He went to Chaco province, somewhat larger than Portugal, where the ranchers and peasants weren't much better off than those in Paraguay. There too, in the vast plain to the south of the Bermejo River, the stubborn Jesuit formed the union for the loggers, the lowest paid and most exploited among the workers. It was impossible for the landowners of the 26 departments to just stand by and watch. "Shortly thereafter, messages of death and real intimidation began to come." The year was 1973 and the Society had a new provincial, the young Father Bergoglio.

"If I'm alive today, if I've been able to write forty books, if I've been able to continue to promote the rights of the last and the least and the Gospel among the poor and, finally, if I've been able to tell how things went down, I owe it to him," Father Caravias emphasizes. As an untarnished liberation theologian ("in an Argentine version," he specifies), Caravias sees in the attacks on the new pope a crude reaction from "some of international capitalism." Father Jorge is the sort of person willing to smell of humanity. "For his accusers, a pope who denounces global poverty is too dangerous," he says.

After fourteen years of mission among the indigenous people in Ecuador, Caravias moved to Paraguay. In the eye of the military, he was behaving like a perfect communist. Where the extraordinary Jesuit missions had existed long ago, he organized the peasants and laborers into cooperatives. For the peasants, it meant finally having a voice in the food market and moving tons of products with the consistency of those who, thanks to the partnership between small producers, would not have to submit to the conditions imposed by the ever present opportunists.

In sum, Father José Luis was what one would call a hothead...Once he had set foot in South America, he was certainly not going to be satisfied with a comfortable room and a pile of books. From the start, he went to work in the field. Then, as a peasant priest, he began to deal with the professional training of the agricultural leagues. But that career didn't last long. "In May 1972, I was violently captured by the police and abandoned on a street in Clorinda."

In Argentina, in Chaco province, we already know that it didn't go better for him. A bishop who received him in his home, explained why: "I have here, on my desk, some letters you wrote in Paraguay," argued the prelate who was wearing a white poncho and protected himself from the heat with a wrinkled peasant hat. "The problem is that what you're explaining is called Marxism." He said it with the peremptory bonhomie of a spiritual father who wants to warn about heresy.

Caravias, though fascinated with the Church's social doctrine and liberation theology, didn't think he could be classified as Marxist. But neither did he worry more than necessary that time. Among the new generation theologians ran an expression: "Don't be afraid of anything, not even the Vatican."

Considering the messes he had gotten into so many times during his journey through South America, from the missions in Ecuador to Peru and Bolivia, Caravias was forced to go home, exiled. In those days he didn't look favorably on Bergoglio. Especially because the latter, although he was able to remove him from the evil intentions of the military several times, made him go back to Spain for a while, waiting for good times to come back to Buenos Aires.

"Given my insistence on returning to Argentina, Father Bergoglio answered with a letter on July 15, 1975." It was eight months before the coup but the situation seemed clear. The country was sinking hopelessly. It was preparing to become an open-air prison. From Chaco to Patagonia, many warned that this was the unavoidable fate of the country. The mind of the international community was elsewhere. The United States hadn't blinked at the massacres that were being perpetrated by other South American regimes.

Bergoglio had understood it perfectly. And he had already started to take precautions. Answering Father Caravias' supplication, he sent him a cryptic letter. After fraternal salutations to his distant friend, the provincial got into the merits of the matter: "As far as the possibility of your return, I've consulted doctors and specialists and they agree that the climate wouldn't suit you, not even for a brief time, fearing a relapse of the illness you suffered."

Quite obviously, the provincial father knew that the secret forces had him under observation. And that if this letter were intercepted, the military could hardly suspect it. The Spanish Jesuit did not take it very well, but he realized that the situation was worse than he had imagined. The tone and metaphor about the state of health made an impression on him, raising questions in him to which the following year would give a dramatic response.

"Bergoglio had warned me that the extreme right-wing anti-terrorist vigilante group had ordered my elimination. So Spain would be the most "healthy" destination for me. It wasn't excessive worry or a way of keeping a cumbersome priest far from the Argentine province. "Two priest friends of mine had been assassinated: Carlos Mújica and Mauricio Silva. Surely Bergoglio didn't entirely agree with my work of organizing the people. Perhaps the many police reports had made him doubt me, but he behaved nobly, he never imposed an alternative "doctrine" on me, and he helped me escape certain death. I will always be grateful to him."

Moreover, in that lawless terrain that was Chaco province, "I had been arrested and jailed for one night," recalls Father Caravias. "At midnight I was exposed to a mock execution. One terrible night in a filthy prison. That time I knew the uncertainty of tomorrow. I didn't know if I would get to see the dawn. Today I can say I did well to follow Bergoglio's advice. Both when he suggested I leave the country and when he explained in that letter that the climate wouldn't suit me."

Certainly for Father José Luis, "as for many of us, a great effort brought us to healing. It isn't easy to forgive and forget those horrors. But for him, for me and for many more, such as Father Franz Jalics, faith in Jesus was vital.


"Bergoglio's List":How Francis saved dissidents from Argentina’s military dictatorship, Vatican Insider, 9/25/2013

Book says pope saved more than 1,000 in 'Dirty War', National Catholic Reporter, 10/7/2013

El Nobel Pérez Esquivel prologa "La Lista de Bergoglio", Religión Digital, 12/1/2013

Yvonne Pierron: "Bergoglio nos ayudó mucho cuando las hermanas fueron secuestradas", Religión Digital, 10/27/2013

Women priests in the Church?: José Maria Castillo suggests not

NOTE: There is a school of thought among some progressive theologians that, rather than admitting women into the priesthood, we should be eliminating the institution altogether. I have always entertained both perspectives on this blog. -- RG

By José M. Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
December 2, 2013

I understand that there are quite a few women who are disappointed with the recent exhortation of Pope Francis. Just as, surely, there will be others who feel safer now with what this innovative pope has said. My point of view doesn't represent much on this or many other issues. But, be it much or little, I want to make clear at the outset that I agree with what Francis says about women in the exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium".

Let it be noted that the pope himself, in this exhortation (which is not an encyclical, much less a dogmatic definition), tells the bishops and theologians that in the particular case of women's ordination, there's "a great challenge." And so he says to those skilled in these matters that they could help "recognize more fully what this entails with regard to the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church's life." (no. 104). The issue, therefore, and in regard to the ordination of women, is not closed, but is in a process of searching, something which I'll try to explain in what I can arrive at on the subject.

Pope Francis stresses the need for the Church to return to fully living out the Gospel. Well, if that is taken seriously, we will seriously implement what the pope is saying. And, in such a case, what we find in the Gospel is that Jesus didn't ordain anyone a priest. Not women, of course. But men neither, nor even the apostles as is usually said with more ignorance than knowledge of the facts. "Priests" are not spoken of in the Church until the 3rd century. And about "orders" and "ordination", we ought to know that "ordo" doesn't belong to biblical language, but is a term and an institution that was taken from the organization of Roman society. And that was also done well into the 3rd century.

I'm not going to linger on other historical explanations. For quick information, as is the case, my view is that if Jesus did not think of priests but, on the contrary, had deadly conflicts with priests, is it best for the Church to increase the influence of the clergy and fatten an establishment that has appropriated power and privileges at the expense of all other believers in Jesus? Are we going to use women to boost that structure that is dying because every day there are fewer and fewer men who want to be part of that group? If Jesus did not think of clerics or priests, are we going to keep them going, even strengthening them with women priests?

So, a church without clergy? Well, yes. So what? Jesus chose twelve apostles. But, in the view of early Christianity, the purpose of that was for these men to be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, a substitute was found for Judas (Matthias). But afterwards, as the other apostles were dying off, no substitute was found for any of them. The Gospel speaks of exemplary disciples, followers who had to put living as Jesus lived before anything else, even their own father's funeral. But people with power and privilege? No way.

Jesus wanted them to be "last", "servants" and "slaves" of all. This is what the Gospel says. We mortals have invented and fleshed out everything else. To live off it. Do we want to live as Jesus lived? And who is stopping women from doing that? Jesus didn't want people with power, but followers who are faithful to his way of understanding life.

And what do we do about the sacraments? Let each community decide, in each case, who coordinates, organizes, and runs it, as is done in all human institutions and groups. And what the Council of Trent said in its 7th session? Before 1980 I showed, citing the Acts of the Council in detail ("Símbolos de libertad", 1981, ch. 8) that what was affirmed in that session is not a doctrine of the faith. One can think in a different way and do things differently. What matters is not who has this or that power. What's really important is living as Jesus lived. I'll talk about the issue of abortion another day.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A woman priest responds to Pope Francis: "The denial of the priesthood to women is questionable"

by Olga Lucia Álvarez Benjumea, ARCWP (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Evangelizadoras de los apóstoles
November 27, 2013

What do you expect from Pope Francis with respect to women in the priesthood? They asked me that question not long ago and I answered, "From Pope Francis as pope I expect nothing, much less dogmatic or doctrinal change. He is under the "sway" of the Curia. What Francis is doing is challenging us to live the Gospel incarnate in the People with the sons and daughters of God. That is enough. It is and has been what's most important in the history of Christianity and the Church. The proclamation of the Gospel is justice and equality. If the opposite is preached, proclaimed and done, injustice and oppression are gestated, there will be no change, no reform, and PEACE is aborted! The door of the Gospel remains open to all women and men of good will!

For many, there is still the worrisome question about Canon 1024, which says that only baptized males can have access to the sacrament of Holy Orders. Up to now, no one has been able to answer what kind of water is used to baptize males or what different words are used in the baptism of a male that aren't known to the other members of the Church. The sacramental rite of Baptism is totally the same for women and men. Something has to change so that we are not discriminating against and marginalizing half of humankind which is us women.

Francis has just said that "the reservation of the priesthood to males...is not a question open to discussion." I agree that it's not discussed, but the denial of the priesthood to women is questionable, since it isn't supported by any biblical or theological argument.

The sacramental commitment, proclaimed at the moment of consecration, must be inclusive of women and men. It is the commitment to dedication and service that springs from deep within men and women, joyfully proclaiming the Gospel! Commitment can not just be exclusive to males. The Eucharist is made and lived in Community! It is the celebrant con-celebrating with the Community and the Community celebrating with the co-celebrant, united, making real together the commitment to conversion, renewal and change (metanoia), building the Kingdom of God here on Earth, in the Here and Now.

It is impossible for them to deny women listening and following the voice of God-Conscience.

"Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God..." (GS 16)

Each of us human beings, man or woman, must obey the right judgment of our conscience. It isn't lawful for us to act against our own conscience, since we have always been taught and learned as a principle from the Church: conscience is the voice of God. "In all one says and does, one is obliged to follow faithfully what one knows to be just and right." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1778)

Conscience, being the voice of God, is not exclusive to men. In fact, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, on hearing the call and giving her priestly "yes", representing all of us women, responded to that priestly commitment, saying, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:26-38) In every Eucharist, she is the one who gives herself over and says, "This is my Body; this is my Blood." My Lord and My God!

Under no circumstances can we feel excluded in the face of our call to priestly ministry. On the contrary, it's our responsibility -- joyful service to the Gospel, for the Kingdom of God in the Church, with the Church, always bringing a liberating message with joy of salvation, as did Mary Magdalene and her companions carrying out Jesus' commission: "Go tell my brothers and sisters to go to Galilee, and we will see each other there." (Matthew 28: 8-20)

Just like the women of Jerusalem, those who remained at the foot of the cross, and who looked for him in the tomb, we have heard Jesus' commission and with them and many more, we have accepted the invitation to meet in Galilee. There, where there is no lust for power, where the empires of oppression, injustice and inequality have no place. There, where only unity in Christ who lovingly clothes, protects and cares for us, is sought.

He said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness." (John 8:12)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

With open eyes

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
December 1, 2013

Matthew 24:37-44

The first Christian communities experienced very difficult years. Lost in the vast empire of Rome, in the midst of conflict and persecution, those Christians were seeking strength and encouragement by waiting for the prompt coming of Jesus and remembering his words: Keep watch. Stay awake. Have your eyes open. Be alert.

Do Jesus' calls to stay awake still mean anything for us? What is putting our hope in the living God with open eyes for Christians today? Will we let hope in God's final justice for that vast majority of innocent victims who suffer through no fault of their own, run out definitively in our secular world?

Indeed, the easiest way to distort Christian hope is to expect our eternal salvation from God while we turn our backs on the suffering there is in the world right now. Someday we will have to acknowledge our blindness before Christ the Judge: When did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we didn't assist you? This will be our final dialogue with him if we live with eyes closed.

We are to wake up and open our eyes wide. Be vigilant to look beyond our narrow interests and concerns. The hope of Christians is not a blind attitude, because they never forget those who suffer. Christian spirituality is not just looking inward, because their hearts are attentive to those who are abandoned to their fate.

In the Christian communities, we are to take more and more care that our way of living out hope doesn't lead us to indifference or neglect of the poor. We can't isolate ourselves in religion so as not to hear the cry of those who die daily of hunger. We are not allowed to feed our illusion of innocence to defend our peace of mind.

Can a hope in God that forgets those who live on this earth without being able to hope for anything not be considered a religious version of optimism at all costs, lived without clarity or responsibility? Might not a search for one's own eternal salvation with back turned to the suffering be accused of being a subtle "selfishness extended into the beyond"?

Probably the little sensitivity to the immense suffering in the world is one of the most serious symptoms of the aging of Christianity today. When Pope Francis calls for a "poorer Church and for the poor," he is crying out his most important message to Christians in well-off countries.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Pope's survey of Catholics

By José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teología Sin Censura Blog
November 20, 2013

As is known, traditionally minded Catholics are concerned, even frightened, because of the poll Pope Francis has put out so that we Catholics might say what we really think about the issues related to the family that have given the most to talk about in recent years. Some have said that the survey is only for the bishops. But no. To our knowledge, so far, those who can (and should) respond to the questions raised, are all of us.

Well, if the whole Church has the floor to say what it thinks about much debated issues (abortion, homosexuality, divorced people, separated people, etc., etc.), then the survey is more revolutionary than many can imagine. And it is, for a reason that surely few realize.

Let me explain. Many would like to have a pope who finally tells the Church with his infallible authority what to think and do about the above problems, and many others related to family life, sex .... Topics that are delicate, that preoccupy us so much and, above all, that are so very much discussed, so pointedly, and about which there are so many doubts that people are passionate about them. Well, why is the survey, directed at those of us who argue so much about such matters, so revolutionary?

The underlying problem is not the complexity of the issues raised by the survey. The problem has its roots in a much more complicated matter. What is at issue is not the answer that can - and should - be given to each one of these subjects. What it is going to put into question is the response that can - and should - be given to the limits of the Pope's authority to settle, through a dogmatic definition, what Catholics have to think, believe and live in matters that concern us so strongly. My question, after reading the survey, is as follows:  If we follow the teaching of the highest magisterium of the Church, can we guarantee that the Pope has the authority and sacred power to define as "articles of faith" doctrines and ways of life about which there is no agreement among Catholics, but rather a diversity of doctrines and theories that have led to deep divisions, and even clashes, among Catholics themselves?

As is known, the doctrine of papal infallibility was defined in the First Vatican Council (1870). The Council's words were the following: "The Roman Pontiff .... possesses that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals."(H. Denzinger - P. Hünermann, No. 3074). Therefore, according to Vatican I, papal infallibility is the infallibility of the Church. Which means that the pope, when he makes a dogmatic definition, does not pronounce judgment as a private person, but sets out or defines the doctrine of the Catholic faith as the supreme teacher of the universal Church. So what the Pope has is "the charism of infallibility of the Church itself," as Vatican II said (LG, no. 25).

Therefore, the subject that possesses the power of infallibility is the Church. The pope has the charism of pronouncing that infallibility in specific cases and matters. Consequently, when the Church is divided -- and even in opposition -- on a particular topic, the Pope can not settle such a situation by making use of a dogmatic definition. To make an infallible definition, the pope has to have reasonable assurance that the subject of his definition is known in the Church and is accepted by the Church. This is why Pope Pius XII, prior to the definition about the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven (1950), asked all the bishops in the world whether in their churches this doctrine was accepted as doctrine revealed by God. And when he got an affirmative response from all, then he proceeded to make the dogmatic definition.

This being the doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church, it's not enough that the Pope ends a dispute for us to talk about a definition. Nor is declaring a doctrinal judgment "final" a definition, properly speaking (G. Thils). As the official rapporteur of Vatican I, Msgr. Grasser, explained, "the pope is infallible only when, in his role as teacher of all Christians and thus representing the whole universal Church, he judges and defines what is be admitted or rejected by all." (Mansi 52, 1213 C) And it must be admitted or rejected as a matter of faith or truth. Everything else, and no matter how much the Pope says it, is (and will be) a matter of obedience. But, as is well known, matters that don't pass obedience -- in cases where the subject thinks in his conscience that he doesn't have to obey -- in such cases, he can (and even should) disobey. Because, as we know (from the lucid teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas ("Sum Theol." , 2-2, q.104, a.6; a.5), the ultimate judgment on the rightness of an act is the judgment of one's own conscience, not mere passive submission.

The consequence that follows from the above, is clear. The questions proposed by the Pope's survey on the family raise a number of issues on which there is no consensus in the Church, either theologically or from the scientific and historical point of view. They are what the experts call "disputatae quaestiones" (issues under discussion). In the Synod next October, will unanimous agreement be reached on such issues? It would be desirable. But it is not predictable. The consequence will be that doctrinal limits of papal power when settling a disputed doctrine will be patently clear. The Church's unity is not uniformity. Its unity is built on respect, tolerance, kindness and seeking the good of all. And therefore, unity happens (and will go on happening) from the diversity of opinions, behaviors and ways of life, provided that they are debatable within respect for the rights of others. If greater tolerance, more respect for those who think differently and live differently, is achieved through the survey and the Synod, the Church will have taken a decisive step towards unity as the Lord desired. And if, in addition to that, certain issues which now divide us or oppose us, are clarified then Pope Francis will have made a decisive contribution (one more) to the good of all of us.

German bishops to go forward with proposal to reinstate divorced people

Religión Digital (English translation by Rebel Girl)
November 26, 2013

The German Catholic bishops plan to continue with a proposed reform to reinstate the faithful who are divorced and remarried despite the contrary position expressed by the prefect of the Doctrine of the Faith, Gerhard Müller, as Gebhard Fürst, Bishop of Stuttgart, said this weekend.

Fürst stressed during a meeting with the laity that the bishops had already made a draft of reforms and would be seeking approval for them at their March plenary.

Readmitting remarried Catholics into the Church is a pressing issue for Pope Francis, who convened a special synod of bishops for October in order to consider ways to carry out that reform despite Catholicism's rejection of divorce.

Fürst was the most explicit of several German bishops who rejected the position of Archbishop Gerhard Müller, director of the Vatican doctrinal office, who last month ruled out any change after the Archdiocese of Freiburg divulged its proposals.

"We want to adopt new guidelines in our plenary in March," Fürst told the Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken ("Central Committee of German Catholics"), an influential group of lay faithful, Saturday in Bonn.

Catholics who divorce and remarry in a civil ceremony are prohibited from receiving communion under Vatican doctrine that applies throughout the Church. Many of them see the move as a sign of rejection and turn away from the faith.

Fürst said that complaint was one of the most frequent German bishops have heard since they launched an initiative to consult the faithful after a wave of revelations in 2010 about sexual abuse of minors by priests.

"Expectations (of reform) are very great, and the impatience and anger are even greater," said the prelate, adding that a group of bishops has been discussing the issue since then.

The Pope referred to the subject at a press conference on his return trip from Brazil in July, saying the Church had to review its position on marriages that have ended and that it would do so at the synod of bishops next year.

Catholicism says that marriage is indissoluble and can only be terminated if it is annulled, i.e. the Church determines that the conditions of marriage such as free will or psychological maturity did not exist at the time of marriage.

The Archdiocese of Freiburg, in southwestern Germany, released guidelines last month that stated that a priest can readmit divorced and remarried people to the sacraments if they prove their faith and commitment to the new union.

When the Vatican's doctrinal chief ordered Freiburg to withdraw the guidelines, the Cardinal of Munich Reinhard Marx -- one of the eight advisers to the Pope -- said he "could not end the discussion" and that the debate ought to continue "on a broader scale."

Monday, November 25, 2013

From taboos to dialogue

By Victor Codina (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cristianisme i Justícia Blog
November 21, 2013

For a long time there has been a chasm -- a true gap -- between the official doctrine of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church on marriage and family, and real daily praxis. There's a significant silence, a real taboo, on subjects such as common law unions, divorce and remarriage of the divorced, contraceptive methods, homosexual unions, premarital relationships, etc.

These previously unheard of situations cause conflict and perplexity today both in the faithful and in the pastors. Some couples have left the Church, others have serious problems of conscience, others, after a mature examination, go on practicing in the Church but outside the official teaching. Many pastors -- bishops, parish priests, theologians, and moralists -- also live in a tension between the desire to be faithful to the Magisterium and the pastoral problems they contemplate every day. But in all this, a respectful reverential silence is maintained, which is harmful in the long run.

It is striking that while the Magisterium of the Church offers mostly general guiding principles on social and economic questions, on issues of sexual and family morality it acts dogmatically and prescriptively. Moreover, many current moralists think that Christian morality has no moral content of its own other than that of human morality (so-called natural law) which Christians live out, enlightened and strengthened by their faith in Christ.

Aware of the seriousness and anomaly of this situation, Pope Francis has convened an extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the family in two stages, 2014 and 2015, and has launched a survey with 38 questions, plus a final one on whether there are other challenges or proposals on these issues. It asks about doctrine and the marriage and family practices of the Christian faithful, what they think about common law unions, about divorce and new irregular couples with the rules of the Church forbidding them from participating in the sacraments, their opinion on homosexual unions and the adoption of children, on the Church's doctrine on birth control methods, premarital trial cohabitation (ad experimentum), etc...

All this, it's stated, is more urgent today when we are well aware of the teaching of divine mercy, of tenderness towards hurting people on the geographical and existential peripheries.

The Pope has opened a door to dialogue and consultation. It's the families who will have to get their opinions to their pastors and bishops, since they are the primary ones concerned and responsible -- they're the actors and victims. Let's hope the voices of the families are heard. A new pentecostal breeze is shaking up the Church and inviting it to go from taboos to honest and open dialogue.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Jose Arregi: "My Church and My Creed at 60"

By José Arregi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Blog de José Arregi
November 20, 2013

Sixty years aren't many, but it's as if in them I've had to change cultural eras twice and live my life in three different cultures, three worldviews, and three theological paradigms. Before, cultural eras lasted thousands of years. We believed heaven and earth were motionless, and that everything should be governed by an immutable order, that the Earth was the center of the universe, and just the sun and the moon turned slowly around it to light us by day and accompany us at night and mark the rhythms of planting and harvesting.

But today we know that the earth turns at 30,000 km per second. Everything in the universe -- galaxies almost infinite in number and size and almost infinite atoms in their particles, waves, and voids -- everything is united to everything and it all moves and races dizzyingly. It's more remarkable than dizzying (what produces vertigo and havoc is the rhythm of so-called "economic development").

The agrarian culture has lasted for ten millennia -- somewhat less in these lands, where we learned to farm and raise animals later. The industrial age was born only two hundred years ago, and modernity with it. But now we're in another era -- in just two hundred years, the industrial age has become the post-industrial age, the information age. At the same time, modern culture, characterized by secular faith in scientific reason and progress, has become postmodern culture, marked by the collapse of truth, the fragmentation of knowledge, evidence of uncertainty, and the recognition of pluralism in all fields. In just two hundred years, we have gone from pre-modernity to modernity and from the latter to post-modernity.

So, in my 60 years of life I have seen three different -- very different -- cultural epochs. And by "different cultural epochs", I mean my way of being a believer, of being church, praying the Creed. For nearly 20 years, my faith was completely pre-modern: the earth was the center of the universe presided over by God, God was the Supreme Being and Lord, the Bible and dogmas had been directly revealed by God, the sacred was superior to all things profane, being a priest was the greatest, mortal sin the most terrible, and the pope always had the last word.

Studying philosophy and theology brought doubt, not without anguish. I had to reconcile -- often desperately -- philosophy with theology, faith with reason, theocentrism with anthropocentrism, the power of God with human freedom, grace with responsibility, the sacred with the profane, the political transformation of the world with the hope of the "beyond", truth with tolerance, religion with secularism, the only incarnation of God with respect for non-Christian religions. I had to modernize my Creed.

But when I thought I had achieved it more or less during my four years at the Catholic Institute in Paris, another world would open for me -- or rather impose itself on me. One of the key triggers was the process of writing a doctoral thesis on the relationship between Christianity and other religions starting from the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. Three worlds confronted each other in me: the basically premodern theology of Von Balthasar (Christianity is the only revealed religion or at least the only religion of the historical incarnation of God), the modern theology of Rahner (Christianity is the historical culmination of the revelation and incarnation of God, which is also found in other religions) and the clearly "postmodern" theology of Panikkar (God has many names and is incarnated in many ways in all cultures and religions. I opted for the third model mostly because the others locked me in a dead end without respite. But the pluralist paradigm was also in turn like a leap in the dark, so there was no peace in me (nor was there any in the tribunal before which I presented the thesis in January 1991).

In later years I was looking to shape a radically pluralistic theological paradigm, an ecological and liberationist paradigm: God is not a Being, She/He is the heart and soul of the constantly expanding and creating universe with no center whatsoever, She/He is the Spirit or Ruah of peace and consolation, which groans in humankind and in all creatures until full liberation, full creation. Our human species Homo sapiens, which appeared only 200,000 years ago on this beautiful green and blue planet, is neither the center nor the crown of creation, not even the center and crest of this planet, rather it is nothing more nor less than a wonderful and still unfinished manifestation of creation in progress, with three brains - reptilian, mammalian and human - not well coordinated with each other, that do not allow it more than a still very dormant conscience and a very fragile peace. One day it will disappear like all other species but life on Earth will go on developing (and probably on other planets, although we still don't know anything about it).

And Jesus? ! Jesus -- blessed be he -- is a remarkable individual of this our poor and wonderful human species. He was and still is -- because Life that is given does not die -- a prophet, sacrament, symbol, and incarnation of liberating and creative Compassion; he was outrage and peace, rebellion and hope. He didn't care about religion but about mercy; he didn't care about blame but about healing. He didn't oppose, exclude, or include any other sacrament of Divine Compassion, and he will be fully the Christ, the Messiah, and the Liberator, in communion with all the prophets and liberators past and the future, when all the dreams he called the "kingdom of God" come true. Meanwhile, life on Earth will continue. It still has billions of years to go, and much much more in other galaxies and on other planets, and I want to believe that here or elsewhere species will appear that can and will be able to successfully live better than us, in more stable peace and greater harmony with themselves and with all beings, to the glory of Life or God.

That's where I am, where I'm going. I never thought of publishing a book like this, until Credo Ediciones insisted on it a couple of months ago, because of my "100 days of papacy" article on Pope Francis, just two pages long. Following their invitation, I have pulled together several texts here, most of them not yet published in print form. If they can be of any use to anybody, give thanks to the publisher.

"My Church and My Creed": The title is at least ambiguous, and it may seem presumptuous. They are in no way "my" Church or "my" Creed. I'm not founding anything. The possessive articles are superfluous. And yet, how are we to be Church today if it isn't by seeking to be free, and how are we to pray the Creed of all time if not with those words that lead every one of us to really live today?

(Taken from the prologue of José Arregi, Mi Iglesia y mi Credo. Reflexiones sobre un cristianismo creíble para hoy, Credo Ediciones, Berlín 2013, pp. 3-6).