Friday, February 7, 2014

Heading for the periphery

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

Matthew 5:13-16

Through two bold and startling images Jesus discloses what he is thinking and expects of his followers. They are not to always think of their own interests, prestige or power. Although they're a small group in the midst of the vast empire of Rome, they are to be the "salt" that the land needs and the "light" the world is lacking.

"You are the salt of the earth." The simple people of Galilee get Jesus' words spontaneously. Everyone knows that salt is used, above all, to give flavor to the meal and to keep food from rotting. In the same way, Jesus' disciples must help people savor life without falling into corruption.

"You are the light of the world." Without the light of the sun, the world would be left in the dark and we wouldn't be able to orient ourselves or enjoy life amid the darkness. Jesus' disciples can bring the light we need to orient ourselves, delve deeper into the ultimate meaning of existence, and walk with hope.

The two metaphors come together on something very important. If it remains isolated in a container, salt is useless. Only when it comes into contact with the food and is dissolved into the dish, can it give flavor to what we eat. The same thing happens with light. If it is enclosed and hidden, it can't shed light on anyone. Only when it is amid the darkness can it enlighten and guide us. A Church that is isolated from the world can be neither salt nor light.

Pope Francis has seen that the Church today is closed in on itself, paralyzed by fear, and too alienated from problems and suffering to give flavor to modern life and offer the genuine light of the Gospel. His reaction was immediate: "We must head for the periphery."

The Pope has stressed again and again, "I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a church concerned with being at the center and then ends up by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures."

Francis' call is directed at all Christians: "We cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings." "The Gospel invites us constantly to run the risk of a face-to-face encounter with others." The Pope wants to introduce into the Church what he calls "the culture of encounter." He's convinced that "what the Church needs today is the ability to heal wounds and warm hearts."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

João Batista Libanio, Theologian (1932-2014)

by Frei Betto (English translation by Rebel Girl)
February 6, 2014

We were cousins -- he, a Jesuit, I, a Dominican. Gifted with a brilliant mind, a PhD in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome, he spoke Spanish, English, German, French, Latin and Greek. And he was trained in Romance languages at PUC-Rio University. He also studied in Frankfurt. In Germany, he was a student of the famous theologian Karl Rahner. He specialized in dogmatic theology.

His sermons were pleasantly humorous and in personal dealings, he surprised people with jokes and ironic touches of classical quotations, many of them in German. During the Second Vatican Council, he directed the Brazilian Pius College in Rome, for the training of seminarians from Brazil. In 1969, seeing me persecuted by the dictatorship, he welcomed me at the Christ the King Seminary in São Leopoldo (RS), where he taught theology.

In 1974, he joined the Emmaus group, which supported liberation theology. We used to meet twice a year on weekends. Libanio would never miss it. In fact, he was the coordinator of the group. He would receive us at the Jesuit retreat house in Correas (RJ) and used to take note of everything covered in the session. Next year, he would have been a key player in the commemorations of the 40th anniversary of the Emmaus group.

But while he was a scholar all in all, he made a radical option for the poorest. He lived in Venda Nova, in greater Belo Horizonte, and had classes in the Jesuit seminary. On weekends, he celebrated Mass in a rural parish in Vespasiano (MG).

A talented writer, he published 125 books, 36 of which under his sole authorship. He advised major meetings of bishops and cardinals, including the Synod of Bishops in Rome, as well as meetings of the Brazilian Bishops' Conference. He was one of the leading figures of the Christian Base Communities in Brazil and throughout Latin America.

In recent years, he did not accept most of the invitations to lecture and offer advice. He preferred to stay at home to pray, read, and write.

Disciplined, a walker, he swam every day for almost an hour. During the retreat he preached for the Sisters of Zion in Curitiba, who are devoted to ministry to the working class, he suffered a massive heart attack on the morning of Thursday, January 30th. He crossed over at age 82.

Now the light of his deep Christian faith has bared the whole Mystery for him.