Friday, January 31, 2014

Simple faith

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
February 2, 2014

Luke 2:22-40

The story of Jesus' birth is puzzling. According to Luke, Jesus was born in a village where there was no place to receive him. The shepherds had to look all over Bethlehem for him until they found him in a secluded spot, lying in a manger, with no witnesses but his parents. Apparently, Luke felt the need to construct a second story in which the child would be rescued from anonymity to be publicly presented. What more appropriate place than the Temple in Jerusalem for Jesus to be solemnly welcomed as the Messiah sent by God to His people?

But again, Luke's account would be disconcerting. When the parents approach the Temple with the child, the chief priests and other religious leaders don't come out to meet them. Within a few years, they will be the ones who will deliver him up to be crucified. Jesus is not welcome in that religion sure of itself and neglectful of the suffering of the poor.

Nor do the teachers of the Law who preach their "human traditions" in the courts of that Temple, come to receive him. Years later, they will reject Jesus for healing the sick, breaking the Sabbath law. Jesus is not welcome in religious doctrines and traditions that don't help one to live a more dignified and healthy life.

Those who welcome Jesus and recognize him as Messenger of God are two old people of simple faith and open hearts who have lived a long life waiting for God's salvation. Their names seem to suggest that they are symbolic characters. The old man is named Simeon ("The Lord has heard"), the old woman is called Anna ("Gift"). They represent so many people of simple faith who, in every people and time, place their trust in God.

The two belong to the healthiest environments of Israel. They are known as the "Group of the Poor of Yahweh." They are people who have nothing but their faith in God. They don't think about their fortunes or their well-being. They only expect of God the "consolation" their people need, the "liberation" they've been looking for for generations, the "light" that illuminates the darkness in which the peoples of the earth are living. Now they feel their hopes are fulfilled in Jesus.

This simple faith that awaits ultimate salvation from God is the faith of the majority. A little cultivated faith, that almost always takes shape in awkward and distracted prayers, that is formulated in unorthodox expressions, that awakens especially in difficult times of trouble. A faith that God has no problem understanding and accepting.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A moral disconnect: the German version

Regular readers of this blog know that we routinely highlight surveys that show what we call a "moral disconnect" between the Catholic Church teachings and the hierarchs who promote them and the average Catholic layperson in the pews. The Vatican's latest plan to survey its flock in anticipation of the synod on the family later this year will shed more light on this disconnect than anything the mainstream media could devise.

The German news magazine, Der Spiegel, has obtained and released the preliminary findings for German Catholics and the results should confirm Pope Francis' suspicions that the Church's message in many areas of sexual morality is falling on deaf and/or unreceptive ears.

While the full text of the article is only available by subscription (or by purchasing a print copy of the magazine), the gist of it has been published in several other news outlets including, in Spanish, on Religion Digital. Among the findings:

  • 69% of German Catholics admit they don't respect the teachings of the Church in this area.
  • 86% think that the use of artificial contraception is not a sin.
  • 63% of divorced and remarried (without annulment) Catholics admit to taking communion, which is prohibited by the Church, believing it is their right to do so.
  • The Federation of German Catholic Youth administered the survey to 10,000 of its members and reported that 96% of them are indifferent to the Church's teaching on sexual morality and that premarital sex and use of birth control are normal parts of their lives and not considered sinful.

Church reform groups like Wir Sind Kirche are now demanding that the German Bishops Conference release the complete results of the survey, which they must now forward to Rome, nationwide. The Archdiocese of Cologne has already made a summary of its survey results available online.

Meanwhile, a group of 17 German professors of moral and pastoral theology have issued their own public response to the survey (available here in a rough English translation). Among their responses:

  • "The Church's position on so-called artificial contraception is practically not accepted."

  • "It is widely recognized that the Magisterium supports forms of relationship of binding solidarity. However, negative attitudes with regard to contraception, homosexual relationships and divorced, remarried persons increasingly obscure the positive aspects of the Church’s teaching in public. People who experience plurality as a positive value in areas outside the Church (professional, social and biographic) are not satisfied when the Church proposes only celibacy and marriage as legitimate ways of life."

  • "The notion of natural law does not play any role in public discourses, and it is also widely rejected in law in this country [Germany]."

  • "Cohabitation ad experimentum is a relevant pastoral reality. Most couples have sexual experiences before marriage and probably most baptized cohabited before their marriage. In general, the number of non-married couples is increasing." and "For many members of the Church, the sacrament of marriage is no longer a way of life that reflects their self-understanding and faith."

  • "Many remarried Catholics participate in the life of the Church, often including reception of communion, in some cases also the sacrament of reconciliation."

  • "Numerous Catholics suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments after their divorce and remarriage. Some receive communion in spite of the prohibition and experience this as invigorating. Indifference towards the impossibility of receiving the sacraments is a form of reactive alienation from the Church." [emphasis mine]

  • With respect to homosexuality, the theologians note that the German public perceives a contradiction between the Church's position that LGBT people should not be discriminated against and the Church's active campaigning against marriage equality. Germany has civil unions for same-sex couples. They go on to say, "an official statement should signal clearly to persons in same-sex civil unions that faithfulness, dependability and solidarity are not worth less in the eyes of the Church because shown by gays and lesbians. This does not require a pre-decision for the equality of their unions with marriage." And, of course, they encourage the Church to baptize the children of these couples and give them access to religious education and other pastoral services.

Monday, January 27, 2014

"Christ was the first Tweeter": Sr. Lucia Caram, OP, the tweeting nun, speaks out

by Ignacio A. Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Opinión de Málaga
January 23, 2014

Her cloister is the world, as she asserts. She has even written a book with that suggestive title. She devotes herself body and soul to the least fortunate, works as a volunteer in a food bank, tends to the poor in the shelter...and she is very active on Twitter, where she states that she is telling what she sees.

This nun has revolutionized the social networks. Yesterday, she had 25,800 followers on Twitter. Today, probably there will now be more. In her biography, she describes herself as a restless and disquieting nun. Her words overflow with the vitality that prevents her from staying locked in her convent in Manresa. It forces her to not remain silent and to denounce the abuses committed in society in just 140 characters, leads her to sport the scarf of Barça [FC Barcelona], of which she is a faithful follower, and to speak out, even though it may contradict the officialdom of the Church to which she belongs and which she serves.

Isn't being cloistered nun and popping into the world daily through social networking a contradiction?

Sr. Lucia Caram: I believe that the social networks and especially Twitter allow us, with little verbiage, to transmit and also to populate the networks, which are plagued by a lot of tension and anger, with positive initiatives and ideas. Twitter must also serve to amplify the situation of those who are worse off. The social networks allow me to say what I'm contemplating and seeing. Contemplation isn't just rolling one's eyes and looking up to heaven, but seeing what's happening in the heart of humanity and asking all of us to get involved.

More and more people are having a hard time.

Sr. Lucia Caram: And worst of all is that poverty is becoming chronic. With this crisis, new poor have emerged. Those who were already poor are even more so. The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger. The new growth that the government has promised has not yet reached the pockets of most people. We have to continue hoping against hopelessness.

140 characters ... You say you like Twitter because it's a medium of few words. Do we need less talk and more deeds?

Sr. Lucia Caram: We are in a society that talks too much, where commitment is lacking, and sometimes a lot of nonsense is written. We are so empty we write without saying anything, by going with such haste and with so much stress. It's good that Twitter gives us the opportunity to think about what we're going to communicate. And it's very interesting to be able to infect the networks positively.

Would Christ tweet if he were alive today?

Sr. Lucia Caram: I think he was the first Tweeter. The Gospel is composed of short phrases which fit perfectly in a tweet. It's very revealing. Christ said nothing would remain hidden, that all truths would be shouted from the rooftops. And indeed, we are living in a time when nothing is hidden. The networks and the media make it necessary for us to be transparent. And that's good. Jesus was also ahead of his time in this case.

Then one doesn't have to be shocked at a tweeting nun.

Sr. Lucia Caram: Of course not. But we're in a patriarchal Church, which the train of history has passed by. In this regard, Francis has brought some normality. If I was discredited before, now the Pope has redeemed me because he supports the whole issue of social networks. We are in a time when everyone has to be true to their conscience. The Gospel doesn't sell any ideology or control conscience, or give moral prescriptions. It's good news that ought to help us become better people and work for justice. Christ didn't come to inaugurate any religion but to establish a new order. So religion can't be a new ideology or a power system to control people, as some pretend. And this has taken its toll on us. The Church must learn to live in poverty and in the elements, because for many years we have lived with a lot of crap.

Are you referring to cases of pedophilia in the Church?

Sr. Lucia Caram: At the UN, the Vatican has publicly acknowledged these abuses and the dioceses have been asked to take measures. It's not that they only happen within the Church, but it's much more serious when it occurs in people who are committed to the Gospel. To this, I say zero tolerance. Let them receive psychological, psychiatric care ... But let them be expelled from the ministry they were performing.

The new Spanish cardinal, Fernando Sebastián, who lives in Malaga, has created great controversy after comparing homosexuality to a treatable defect. What do you think?

Sr. Lucia Caram: I disagree. I think the Pope has been very clear and is being very clear in all his actions. He states that he is not one to judge and if he's not one to judge, it can't be considered a disease. We all have mistakes, but sexual orientation is not a sin or disorientation of nature. We have to accept it. I'm surprised by Sebastian's words. Within the [Spanish] Bishops' Conference, he led the way in a very difficult time and played a key role. His work was very good. That doesn't mean I agree one hundred percent with everything he says. I think emotion over the appointment might have made him open his mouth too much. He's an old person who will receive the red hat in recognition of his career, but he won't have a deciding voice in the Church. Surely he will not have received support from Church officialdom.

So what do you think about same sex marriage?

Sr. Lucia Caram: I always ask myself what Jesus would do, and he always blessed people. He never cursed them. Marriage and love are always blessed. That they refuse to elevate it to the status of a sacrament institutionally is something else. It will take many years for that. I don't feel able to condemn anyone. We are called to bless any kind of love. He who doesn't bless, curses. And that's a sin.

Your views contrast with the official ones of the Church. Do you think abortion law reform is due?

Sr. Lucia Caram: I'm always pro life. Abortion is always a failure, and the woman who arrives at this situation always experiences it that way. But I will never condemn a woman or a couple who chooses it.

You're introducing an important nuance. You talk about the couple, not just the woman.

Sr. Lucia Caram: Being pregnant is a matter of two. There will be cases in which the woman alone decides and many others in which it will be the couple. We have to be respectful and the woman must not be the only one bearing all the responsibility. We will have to find the amenities for people who want to have a child. But it must be the people who make the decision freely. The Church can't get into it. Not even God, who made us free for something.

But freedom also requires limits. Do you think regulation is necessary?

Sr. Lucia Caram: I think the Church must never impose its ethics of maximum on society. There must be ethics of minimum common to all citizens. In this sense, the Church can set standards for those who have freely assumed embracing the faith in this community, but it has no right to pressure or force anyone to take steps based on religious values. You have to separate religion from politics, accompany people, form consciences and go back to the Gospel, where there are very few things commanded or prohibited.

We notice that you speak admiringly of Francis. It wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that he's Argentinian like you?

Sr. Lucia Caram: The Pope is a phenomenal man who has brought normalcy to the Church. That's what for a very long time the vast majority of we grassroots Christians have been saying, but because of the perverse autism of the institution, we weren't heard. The Pope is putting on the table a reality that has ended up stigmatizing the Church. He's going back to the Gospel, opening doors and windows for fresh air to come in and to get rid of all the rot that has made the Church the least credible institution in recent years, despite the important role performed by Caritas, the missionaries, those who work with the poor ... They are Church people; what's happening is that they're not in charge.

Christ would be a Tweeter, but would he come back to expel the merchants from the temple?

Sr. Lucia Caram: I think that's what the Pope is doing. He has taken out the whip. He has clearly told the shepherds who don't smell like sheep, who live in palaces, to get out. Out with those who call themselves monsignor...He's brought it out against laypeople and priests who use their offices to oppress others. He uses the same message as Jesus. And he's done it, for example, with the Vatican Bank.

Are you afraid that something might happen to the Pope before his work is finished? Precedents exist...

Sr. Lucia Caram: He who has given everything has nothing to lose. Our life is surrendered. There may be risks. There is already a recognized leadership, so much that even Obama has asked for an audience. There may be people inside the Curia who are uncomfortable. Nor does the Italian government care for the Pope going to Lampedusa and denouncing the situation faced by thousands of immigrants ... Hypocritically, Francis' words have been taken up in Spain, while the concertina fences in Melilla remain. The Pope is getting in their face. He's uncomfortable for the Curia and the power establishment, but he's also gaining the respect of all. As we are in a theoretically democratic system and Francis has good press because of his life and witness, the rulers take care not to contradict him much.

Is he just a Pope of gestures, as they say, or is he actually going to bring about a revolution?

Sr. Lucia Caram: He's achieving a more credible and servant Church. He's stirring up the foundations to return to the simplicity of the Gospels. Believe me, it's easier to embrace a leper than to take out the whip to ward off the scammers and wolves in sheep's clothing who populated the Vatican administration.

Benedict XVI wanted to but wasn't able?

Sr. Lucia Caram: Benedict realized he couldn't change it and so he tendered his resignation.

Is he the Pope the Church was needing?

Sr. Lucia Caram: There was an outcry within the conclave that we couldn't continue in this disreputable situation. The cardinals realized it and asked Francis to accept and carry out a reform.

Where is the Holy Spirit?

Sr. Lucia Caram: The Holy Spirit acts through people.

How's your daily life?

Sr. Lucia Caram: A bit chaotic. I get up at 5 a.m. I have time to study, pray, participate in the Lauds liturgy...I go to the food bank, I pray again, I eat, I go back to the shelter...

And when do you tweet?

Sr. Lucia Caram: At night. Or when I just get up. Also on the bus or in waiting rooms. I sleep four hours and it's enough for now. Moreover, when I sleep more, my head hurts.

Is it a sin to spend 95 million [euros] for Neymar?

Even five million is already scandalous. Soccer now answers to other interests and these are things that hurt me and make me feel disappointed.

Why do you pray for Barça to win? If they don't need it with the great team they have...

Sr. Lucia Caram: It's already a vice and a professional defect. The truth is that it's a privilege to see how they play. They're artists. We Argentines are distinguished by our passion for soccer. It gives me a lot of happiness, it helps me unwind and gives me an adrenaline rush in my body as if I were the one running the ball.

Did CR7 [Cristiano Ronaldo] deserve the Golden Ball?

Sr. Lucia Caram: It's hard for me to give it to him even if he's named Cristiano ["Christian']. But let it serve as consolation for him so he stops crying.

Would it be a miracle if Malaga were to win Sunday?

Sr. Lucia Caram: We could do something strong for Malaga. Although I'm not going to pray for that to happen, I promise not to write any tweet against it.


All of these links are in Spanish.