Friday, February 21, 2014

A shocking call

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
February 23, 2014

Matthew 5:38-48

The call to love is always seductive. Surely many gratefully welcomed Jesus' call to love God and neighbor. It was the best synthesis of the Law. But what they could not imagine is that one day he would talk to them about loving enemies.

However Jesus did. Without any support from biblical tradition, distancing himself from the psalms of revenge that nourished the prayers of his people, confronting the general climate of hate around him, he proclaimed his call with absolute clarity: "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you."

His words are shocking and surprising but totally consistent with his experience of God. The Father isn't violent. He even loves His enemies, He doesn't seek anyone's destruction. His greatness isn't in taking revenge but in loving everyone unconditionally. Whoever is a child of that God will not introduce hatred or the destruction of anyone into the world.

Love of enemies is not a secondary teaching of Jesus addressed to people called to heroic perfection. His call is to introduce into history a new attitude towards the enemy because he wants to eliminate hatred and destructive violence from the world. Anyone who is like God will not nourish hatred against anybody. They will seek the welfare of all, even their enemies.

When Jesus speaks of love of enemy, he isn't asking us to nourish in ourselves feelings of affection, sympathy, or fondness towards those who do us harm. The enemy goes on being someone from whom we can expect harm, and it's hard to change the feelings in our heart.

Loving one's enemy means, first of all, not doing wrong to him, not seeking or wanting to do harm to him. We are not to be surprised if we don't feel any love towards him. It's natural for us to feel wounded and humiliated. We are to worry when we go on nourishing hate and the thirst for revenge.

But it's not just about not doing him evil. We can take more steps towards even being ready to do him good if we find him in need. We must not forget that we are more human when we forgive than when we take revenge, rejoicing in his misfortune.

Sincerely forgiving enemies isn't easy. In some circumstances, it can almost be impossible at that moment for the person to free themselves from rejection, hatred, or the thirst for vengeance. We are not to judge anyone from outside. Only God understands us and forgives unconditionally, even when we are not able to forgive.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

More responses to the Synod on the Family Survey: Spain and Japan

More responses have drifted in this week to the Vatican's survey on family and sexuality in preparation for the October 2014 synod on the family.


(from El Periódico, 2/16/2014)

The 38 question survey sent by Francis last October to diocese worldwide to obtain a real snapshot of the Church confirms the schism in Spain between grassroots Catholics and official doctrine on the family and sexual morality. The almost 6,000 responses gathered from parishes, communities, individual Christians, and theologians and forwarded to the Vatican "unfiltered and unboiled" by Església Plural in Catalonia and the Religión Digital web portal in Madrid, reveal that most Catholics don't practice or agree with the prohibition on contraceptive methods or premarital sex, for example.

In the observations sent to Rome, those who responded to Esglèsia Plural and Religión Digital called for respect for homosexual couples and for them to be able to adopt children, for the role of women in the Church to be revised and for celibacy to be optional for priests.

Meanwhile the Spanish Bishops Conference (CEE), still ruled by Antonio Maria Rouco, reluctant to survey, has collected reports from all the diocese and will send them to the Vatican next week with a "national summary" which is being developed, according to a spokesman who refused to provide advance information. The following is an outline of what's new in the responses obtained by Esglèsia Plural and Religión Digital.

Repression and a list of prohibitions

Married couples, men and women religious, engaged and widowed people, as well as Jesuit, DOminican and Franciscan communities, and the Association of Women Theologians, among others, agree that the teachings of the Church on the family are mostly rejected and badly communicated. They also highlighted it lacks credibility in transmission and poses a role for women far from reality. "The family pastoral and catechetical programs are based on repression and not on proposal. They're a list of prohibitions and sins, whereas the value of the family is precisely in its ability to help in all circumstances," laments a group of professors of religion.

A view too patriarchal and unchanging

The institution of marriage that the Church maintains, according to a Christian community in a working class neighborhood of Madrid, isn't very distant from the times of the early Christians in the catacombs of Rome, with a union "for life when life expectancy was less than 30 years." "Its view is too unchanging and patriarchal," agree those consulted by Esglèsia Plural.

Other answers warn that "matrimony existed before the Church was created" and point out that it can't be imposed. Several jurists, among them a former minister, note that the civil bodies in Spain promote unions between men and women, whether within religious or civil marriage, or civil unions. "On the other hand, the Church," they complain, "doesn't acknowledge any union other than the sacramental matrimonial one in Spain."

Bishops lacking in mercy

Bergoglio's questionnaire asks if there are same-sex unions on an equal par in any way with marriage and what the attitude of the Church is. "Frankly improvable," says a group of university professors and married priests. The remind the Pope that the Spanish hierarchy has encouraged demonstrations against, and some prelates have even gone into the streets to protest homosexual marriage, "making clamorous statements that are far from the Gospel and showing an absolute lack of mercy and Christian feeling." One of the aspects on which there was the most agreement, according to Esglèsia Plural, was that we have to welcome them and approach them without prejudice. They also recognize that a thorough review of the doctrine on the role of sexuality in couples is needed.

Majority supports contraceptives

Sex in general and particularly within marriage is one of the most contested sections. Respondents believe that "a thorough review of the moral norms governing them is urgent" because they are a "compendium of absurd prohibitions proposed by people who, in theory, never have had to face these issues." Some argue that abstinence which the Church proposes as a natural means of contraception, is emphatically "unnatural".

Esglèsia Plural's analysis stresses that "it is one of the aspects which most clearly manifests a lack of following of the Church's guidelines." The majority is in favor of the use of contraceptives, especially condoms. "The Church's view is light years away from reality. It should begin by stopping seeing sex as sinful," suggests an expert on marriage and family ministry.

Optional celibacy and the defense of life

Under the heading "Other challenges and protests", a sort of catchall that concludes the long questionnaire developed by Pope Francis, the faithful respond to the Pontiff that it is urgent to review the role of women within the Church, develop a pastoral on the end of life, speed up the marriage dispensation process, and review compulsory celibacy for priests.

The Catholic community agrees that life must be defended. But whereas the more conservative only stress unborn life, the more progressive posit that all life must be defended, those already born as well, and especially that which "is in danger because of poverty and lack of dignity."


The Japanese Catholic Bishops Conference released their response to the preparatory questionnaire for the upcoming Synod on the Family this week. The full text of the document is available in both Japanese and English on their website and it doesn't whitewash the truth. Here are some excerpts:

  • In response to the question about whether the faithful are aware of the Church's teachings on sexual and family matters and put them into practice, the bishops responded: "Generally speaking, people are only aware of the bans on abortion, artificial birth control, divorce and remarriage. They are more influenced by societal mores than by those teachings, especially where birth control is concerned. As for birth control, people do not take the demands of the Church seriously, considering them irrelevant to their lives."

  • With regard to natural law, the Japanese bishops responded: "1. The idea of natural law is not generally understood nor is it accepted. 2. Often when Church leaders cannot present convincing reasons for what they say, they call it 'natural law' and demand obedience on their say-so. This has brought the whole concept of natural law into disrepute: 'If it is natural, why do people need to be taught it?' 3. Japanese culture emphasizes societal expectations rather than abstract principles as guides to action. So, though in the West 'natural law' may seem 'natural,' in Japan it is perceived as abstract and out-of-touch."

  • Regarding same-sex marriage in Japan: "There is as yet no major movement toward recognition of same-sex marriage in civil society. Rather, there seems to be a trend away from any kind of marriage." It should be noted that Japan offers no legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

  • Regarding cohabitation, the Japanese bishops report: "1. Couples who marry after cohabitation are not rare. According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2011), 17 percent of couples that marry had been living together during the year prior to the wedding. 2. One respondent said, 'Nearly all the couples I have married in the last few years have begun living together several months before the wedding. None among them recognized that it goes against the teachings of the Church.'" Further down, they opine: "The pastoral practice of the Church must begin from the premise that cohabitation and civil marriage outside the church have become the norm. The Church must be a place where such couples can find a welcome that will enable them to think more deeply about such issues. In developing a pastoral orientation, it is perhaps important to recall that the only time in the gospels that Jesus clearly encounters someone in a situation of cohabitation outside of marriage (the Samaritan woman at the well) he does not focus on it. Instead, he respectfully deals with the woman and turns her into a missionary."

  • Regarding Communion and Reconciliation for divorced and remarried Catholics: "1. Few ask about the sacraments. They have made the decision to either receive the sacraments or not and follow through on their decision. Others simply stay away from the Church. 2. There are people who do not know that they cannot receive the Eucharist if they have remarried after divorce. Even among those who know, there are people who receive the Eucharist, and there are priests who do not say anything even if they know that fact."

  • On artificial contraception, the Japanese bishops are brutally honest: "1. Contemporary Catholics are either indifferent to or unaware of the teaching of the Church. 2. Most Catholics in Japan have not heard of Humanae vitae. If they have, they probably do not make it an important part of their lives. Social and cultural values as well as financial considerations are more important. 3. While there may be some mention of the Church's teaching on artificial birth control in pre-marital instructions, most priests do not emphasize it." The bishops also clearly indicate their opposition to the survey's implicit conviction that large families are better and that every sex act should be open to procreation, saying that "in addition to economic factors that lead to a decline in the birth rate, there are social factors as well. Women desire more options than just motherhood. A materially comfortable lifestyle is usually impossible for a large family. In order that all children might be enabled to live with the dignity of the children of God, family planning to ensure that they have access to food, health care and education is a responsibility."

The document also discusses the specific challenges the Japanese Catholic Church is facing in this area because of so many mixed-faith couples and considerable internal migration of young people for economic reasons which has led to the breakdown of the traditional multigenerational Japanese family.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

More Church, Less Pope

by Jorge Costadoat, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cristianismo en Construcción Blog
February 6, 2014

Why is Latin America celebrating the appointment of Francis? Because it's natural to be somewhat childish. Chauvinism is childish. We're happy because one of ours has "won". But there's a more important reason. With Francis, whether or not we're considered adults and no longer children is at stake. We Latin Americans are tired of being treated like minors. After 500 years of history, we think we can do things our way. The time has come. Just when our adolescence threatened a fatal break with European parenthood.

Until recently -- and still in good part -- we have endured the Holy See as absolute monarchy. Recent popes squared off the Church with doctrine. Episcopal appointments, for the most part, fell on people who were unobjectionable from a doctrinal point of view but not very bold, without any of the necessary gospel courage. Pressure and control from the Roman Curia have made quite a few of them seem like skittish bishops. Many of them came to the Roman offices cowed, asking permission and forgiveness, as if they weren't shepherds in possession of their dioceses. They had to be doctrinally orthodox because orthopraxis -- discerning what to do in face of the signs of the times in Latin America, creating and imagining alternatives, and running the risk of implementing them -- seemed dangerous to them.

The dizziness of freedom that Vatican II created has probably been the cause of the constriction of our churches. Just when we were beginning to forge a truly Latin American Church, with our own theology, communities and liturgies appropriate to our cultural reality, they clipped our wings. They punished our theologians. They locked the seminarians in cloisters that protected them from their contemporaries, if not from their own humanity. Everything really had to conform to one view alone, to the only possible way of thinking -- the Curia's -- which exploited the pope's name to such a degree that it eventually corrupted the prestige of the Holy See. In pursuit of unity, we all had to be the same. We were forced to close ranks against an adverse world and against pluralism. Thus, we had to neutralize our own diversity. We had been excited by the Council, since it responded to our deepest longing for the Catholic Church. By force of fear, however, we were made to go back to pre-Vatican II. The pontiffs didn't seem to owe anything to anyone. By contrast, the rest had to consider themselves indebted to their good pleasure.

Francis, on the other hand, took power asking for the blessing of the people of God. He doesn't quote himself. He quotes the bishops' conferences of all the ecclesiastical regions of the planet. The difference is radical. As "Bishop of Rome", restricting himself to his diocese will enable the other bishops of the world to be able to breathe and take charge of their own without fear of making a mistake. He, the Pope, speaks without notes. He can make mistakes. The improvisations and spontaneous gestures are opportunities for mistakes, God knows. But thus he gives a counterexample. A fallible Pope frees the Christians, hierarchy, and clergy of the need to be infallible and the curse of feigning it. Francis is not afraid to put on a clown nose to identify with those who transmit the Gospel through playing, bringing joy to the lives of children and people eaten up by sorrow. A pope who plays, with a red ball on his face, is infallible. Because he hits the mark with Christian freedom, when the ultimate criterion of his actions is love. Gospel infallibility lies in love. It finds a way to liberate others so they too can take responsibility for their lives and others' with inventiveness, with more insight than anathemas.

Francis lacks only one thing -- to disappear. Up to now he has done well since because of his daring he has probably committed more than one error. His errors authorize us to test things and make mistakes. Will his successor have to be like him? Let's hope he will be himself and not an imitator of Francis. What's crucial is for Francis to wane in importance so that the churches throughout the world thrive. That he do it now, that he leave the trend in place. So that his successor won't be anxious to "save" the Church instead of inventing, with all the churches, a new, better, more beautiful, and more free world.