Thursday, May 2, 2013

Jesus' Last Wishes

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
May 5, 2013

John 14:23-29

Jesus is bidding farewell to his disciples. They look sad and cowed. They all know they are experiencing the last hours with their Master. What will happen when he's gone from them? Who will they go to? Who will defend them? Jesus wants to hearten them by unveiling his last wishes to them. Let my Message not be lost. It's Jesus' first wish. That his Good News of God not be forgotten. That his followers keep alive the memory of the Father's humanizing project -- that "kingdom of God" of which he has spoken so much. If they love him, this is the first thing they have to take care of -- "Whoever loves me will keep my word ... whoever does not love me, will not keep it."

After twenty centuries, what have we done with Jesus' Gospel? Have we kept it faithfully or are we manipulating it based on our own interests? Do we welcome it in our hearts or are we neglecting it? Do we present it authentically or do we conceal it with our doctrines?

The Father will send you an Advocate in my name. Jesus doesn't want them to remain orphans. They won't feel his absence. The Father will send them the Holy Spirit who will protect them from the risk of deviating from him. That Spirit that they have sensed in him, sending him towards the poor, will impel them in the same direction too.

The Spirit will "teach" them to better understand all that he has taught them. It will help them delve ever deeper into his Good News. It will "remind" them of what they have heard. It will educate them in his lifestyle.

After twenty centuries, what spirit reigns among Christians? Do we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit of Jesus? Do we know how to bring his Good News up to date? Are we attentive to those who are suffering? Where does his renovating spirit impel us to go today?

My peace I give you. Jesus wants them to live with the same peace they have been able to see in him, fruit of his intimate union with the Father. He gives them his peace. It's not like the one the world can offer them. It's different. It will be born in their hearts if they accept the Spirit of Jesus.

That's the peace they are to spread whenever they come to a place. The first thing they will disseminate when proclaiming the kingdom of God to make way for a healthier and more just world. They must never lose that peace. Jesus insists, "Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."

After twenty centuries, why are we paralyzed by fear of the future? Why so much mistrust of modern society? There are many people who are hungry for Jesus. Pope Francis is a gift from God. He's inviting all of us to move towards a Church that's more faithful to Jesus and his Gospel. We can't remain passive.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

'Pacem in Terris': fifty years later

by Juan Masiá (English translation by Rebel Girl)
April 30, 2013

On April 11th, half a century had passed since the salvo to consciences given by Pope John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris.

The Good Pope John asked for peace among all peoples, founded on truth, justice, love, and freedom. The letter, which was addressed by the Pope to all men and women of good will, endorsed the language of human rights, joining it with the gospel message of divine sonship and the universal brotherhood and equality of humankind. He emphasized that peace is achieved through justice, love, freedom and solidarity; that it is frustrated by rearmament and the deceptive dissemination of hatred and division. He was several decades ahead in emphasizing the necessity of combining respect for the individual and the demands of the common good in an era of globalization of the social question.

The transition to democracy still hadn't come to Spain in those days. There were priests who were called to render account at the police station for having preached the contents of the encyclical during their masses. Later, in his Memorias, the former minister López Rodó acknowledged that the fundamental laws of the country needed to be revised in accordance with Pacem in Terris' guidelines on human rights.

John XXIII, who had mediated to prevent the Soviet missile crisis in Cuba from unleashing a worldwide nuclear conflict the previous year, received Khrushchev's daughter and the son-in-law in an audience. But those surrounding him in the Curia frowned upon John's openness to dialogue and the official Vatican newspaper kept the meeting silent. Most of the Spanish bishops participating in the Council at that time represented the stance of national Catholicism and disagreed with the document on religious freedom, which reflected and expanded the emphasis of Pacem in Terris on the defense of human dignity.

Against those who insisted on the slogan that "error has no rights", the encyclical corrected: we must distinguish between the error and the person. The one who is wrong is not deprived of his dignity as a person, which always demands to be respected. This applies both to those who advocate positions that we consider wrong and to those who do not share our religious beliefs. The Declaration on Religious Freedom and the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, from the Second Vatican Council, enshrined this Christian and human attitude, a pillar of democratic coexistence.

Meeting with Pope Francis on April 8th to exchange views on the conflict in the Korean peninsula, Ban Ki-moon asked the current Pontiff for moral leadership in favor of world peace. Pope Francis, who had called for peace on Easter while praying for a peaceful solution in Korea, Syria and other conflict zones, united himself with the efforts of the United Nations Secretary General to promote reconciliation among peoples.

But history repeats itself and it's hard to overcome the temptation to be pessimistic when we recall the calls for peace that were sadly frustrated. At the time of the First World War, Pope Benedict XV, who called on the political leaders to solve the conflict diplomatically, was criticized by the French and the Germans, accused by both sides of favoring the opponent. In his 1965 visit to the United Nations, Paul VI strongly appealed, "Never again, never again war", but his cry didn't make an impact on President Johnson to cease the cruel bombing of the civilian population in Vietnam. In 1991, President Bush (the father) turned a deaf ear to John Paul II's "no" to war, as Bush (the son) refused to listen to him when the "Azores trio"* were planning the unjust preventive intervention in Iraq.

Neither the persuasiveness of a political leader or the moral weight of a religious leader are sufficient to stop what John XXIII called "irrational madness of war" if the conscientized citizenship doesn't rise up from below to unite over and above the differences and, as in Berlin in 1989, tear down the barriers that should never have been built. Today Gaza or Seoul are just emblematic walls among the many that remain to be dismantled to achieve a world without borders.

*Translator's Note: "Trío de las Azores" ("Azores Trio") was an expression used by the Spanish media during the Iraq war to refer to Pres. George W. Bush (USA), Prime Minister Tony Blair (UK) and Pres. José María Aznar (Spain).

Photo: Pope John XXIII signs "Pacem in Terris".

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Freedom of Expression or the Priesthood: A Brazilian priest chooses freedom

"Jesus loved all human beings without prejudice. He loved them all, regardless of their social status, race, or sexuality." (Religion Digital)

"If the human sciences are telling us that today we can no longer classify human beings as homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, but as sexual beings, and that love can emerge at any of these levels, if science leads us to this level of awareness, the Church needs to study this, otherwise it will be committing a sin. Which sin? Not loving one's neighbor. So the Church has to change, not because society is changing but because science and human knowledge have evolved." (O Globo)

It was public positions such as these that led this week to the excommunication of Fr. Roberto Francisco Daniel, better known by his nickname "Padre Beto", a priest in the Diocese of Bauru, Brazil. Padre Beto, in addition to celebrating Mass in the parishes of Santo Antônio (Bela Vista) and São Benedito (Vila Falcão), is well-known as a columnist and radio commentator. His columns have appeared in Bom Dia (Bauru), Gazeta de Botucatu (Botucatu-SP), Impacto (Adamantina-SP), Jornal de Pompéia (Pompéia-SP), Jornal Comércio do Jahu (Jaú-SP) and O Regional (São Pedro, Águas de São Pedro, Charqueada, Ipeúna, Piracicaba, Santa Maria da Serra, Torrinha and Brotas). He currently hosts a radio program called "Espaço Aberto" on Auri Verde.

Padre Beto, who has studied radio, history and theology and who has a doctorate in Ethics from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany, has also been a professor of Philosophy at the Instituição Toledo de Ensino Law School in Bauru and at several other local higher education institutions. He has written several books including Sem Medo de Voar – Uma Filosofia para o Cotidiano ("No Fear of Flying - A Philosophy for Everyday Life" -- Ed. Nobel) Faça Uma Revolução Possível – Uma Filosofia para a Transformação ("Making a Possible Revolution - A Philosophy for Transformation" -- Ed. Nobel) and Um Coração Sábio e Inteligente – Autodescoberta através do Cinema ("A Wise and Intelligent Heart - Self-discovery through the Cinema" -- Ed. Idea).

In the end, however, it was his Internet presence that brought Padre Beto's career as a priest to a close. Like any modern priest in touch with the younger generation, Padre Beto has a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and his own web site. In the videos he posted on his web site, Padre Beto expressed views such as those quoted above. The diocese objected and asked the priest to publicly acknowledge his error and recant. Padre Beto refused and submitted his resignation to the Church, saying that for him, "it has become impossible to live out the Gospel in an institution where, for the moment, freedom of thought and freedom of expression are not respected."

In his statement on his intent to resign from the priesthood, Padre Beto added: "I sincerely hope that the Church will once again be, as it was in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, a Church in which all its members have the right to think and express themselves freely, creating true communion in faith in Christ. I also hope that the Church will be open to scientific development and the new realities that we are experiencing in our contemporary society so that it (the Church) doesn't commit injustice and isn't an obstacle to human happiness."

The Church saw it differently. In a statement explaining the decision to excommunicate the controversial priest, Bishop Caetano Ferrari said that Fr. Roberto Francisco Daniel, "in the name of 'freedom of expression', has betrayed the commitment to loyalty to the Church that he swore to serve on the day of his priestly ordination." The statement went on to explain that the diocese had attempted to dialogue with Padre Beto but that the latter had refused to cooperate. Padre Beto was charged with heresy and schism under canon 1364.

Despite the serious penalty, Padre Beto has been essentially unrepentant. When asked by O Globo why he had chosen to post the controversial videos, Padre Beto replied: "To deepen reflection. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is still homophobic despite having many homosexuals in it. It's closed to today's world and not open to dialogue. It doesn't tolerate thought."

About his excommunication, Padre Beto responded that he was largely indifferent, reminding the interviewer that, before the Church acted, he had already publicly stated that he would be leaving the ministry. He joked that he was thankful to God that the "bonfire" no longer exists, and added that he is a theologian and that he intends to "develop a theological argument so that the analysis of Biblical texts will not be used anymore to disciminate against people and make them unhappy. Today, sexual diversity exists and there are many texts in the Bible that we can no longer consider to be the word of God."

And to his friends on Facebook and Twitter, Padre Beto offered this terse, albeit hyperbolic, coda: "I feel honored to be on the list of the many persons who have been killed or burned alive for thinking and seeking knowledge. I'm grateful to the Diocese of Bauru." Padre Beto intends to keep on teaching and communicating through the media and online and to do pastoral work outside of the institutional Church, possibly through organizing prayer groups.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Lady, Ordained

At the end of last year, the Women's Ordination Conference playfully released a video musical parody Ordain a Lady. This weekend, the first of the 2013 Roman Catholic women candidates for the priesthood was ordained in Louisville, KY. Rev. Rosemarie Smead joins more than 100 women worldwide who have taken this step which, according to the institutional Roman Catholic church, will lead to automatic excommunication.

Rev. Smead, 70, first tried out religious life as a Carmelite nun but the harsh regimen and sleep deprivation took a toll on her health and she was forced to leave after three years. She went back to school and got an undergraduate degree in theology and a doctorate in counseling psychology. She worked for many years in Alabama where she started a clinic for children with learning disabilities and emotional problems in Montgomery and later directed a treatment program for juvenile delinquents in Selma, where she had marched in her younger years in the historic 1965 civil rights march with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. Smead went on to become a professor of counseling at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, a position she held until her retirement in 2007. She is past president and fellow of the Association for Specialists in Group Work and has received multiple awards for her teaching and service to the profession. She is the author of a number of books, including a 3-volume series on counseling children and adolescents titled Skills for Living.

After her ordination, Rev. Smead plans to do pastoral work with a Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP) congregation, Christ Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community. Starting in May, she will lead monthly services, using space at St. Andrew United Church of Christ in Louisville, where her ordination took place.

As for the prospect of excommunication, Rev. Smead, whose vocation was inspired by Fr. Roy Bourgeois' courageous defiance on the issue of women priests, is not afraid, calling it "a Medieval bullying stick the bishops used to keep control over people and to keep the voices of women silent." "I am way beyond letting octogenarian men tell us how to live our lives," she told Reuters.

The Roman Catholic Women Priests movement has seven more priest ordination ceremonies planned for 2013 -- in May in California and Ohio, June in Virginia and Minnesota, August in Pennsylvania, and September in Wisconsin. Whether the Roman hierarchy and the conservative elements in the Church like it or not, more "ladies" will be ordained and standing behind the altar rather than just kneeling in front of it.

And in a surprisingly candid interview with Der Spiegel on the same weekend as Rev. Smead's ordination, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, current president of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, suggested that the time may be right for the Church to consider admitting women to the diaconate. A step or two behind RCWP, perhaps, but moving in the same direction.