Friday, April 11, 2014

Nothing could stop him

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
April 13, 2014

Matthew 26:14-27:66

The execution of John the Baptist was not something casual. According to a widespread belief among the Jewish people, the fate that awaits the prophet is misunderstanding, rejection and, in many cases, death. Jesus probably counted on the possibility of a violent end very early on. Jesus was not a suicide nor was he seeking martyrdom. He never wanted suffering for himself or for anyone. He dedicated his life to fighting it in disease, injustice, marginalization and hopelessness. He was committed to "seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness" -- that more decent and happier world for all that his Father sought.

If he accepted persecution and martyrdom, it was because of faithfulness to this plan of God who doesn't want to see His sons and daughters suffer. Therefore, he doesn't run towards death, but neither does he hold back. He doesn't flee before the threats, nor does he modify or soften his message.

It would have been easy for him to avoid execution. He would just have to shut up and not insist on what could be irritating in the temple or the palace of the Roman prefect. He didn't do it. He followed his path. He would rather be executed than betray his conscience and be unfaithful to the plan of God, his Father.

He learned to live in a climate of uncertainty, conflicts and accusations. Day by day he reaffirmed his mission and continued proclaiming his message clearly. He dared to spread it not only in the far removed villages of Galilee, but in the dangerous environment of the temple. Nothing stopped him.

He will die faithful to the God in whom he has always trusted. He will continue to welcome everyone, including sinners and undesirables. If they end up rejecting him, he will die as an "excluded person" but with his death he will confirm what his whole life has been -- total trust in a God who doesn't reject or exclude anyone from His forgiveness.

He will go on seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness, identifying with the poorest and most despised. If some day he is executed and tortured on the cross, reserved for slaves, he will die like the poorest and most despised one, but through his death he will seal forever his faith in a God who wants the salvation of human beings from all that enslaves them.

We followers of Jesus discover the ultimate Mystery of reality, incarnated in his love and extreme commitment to human beings. In the love of this crucified man is God himself, identified with all who suffer, crying out against every injustice and forgiving the executioners of all time. One can believe or not believe in this God, but it's not possible to make fun of Him. We Christians trust in Him. Nothing will stop His efforts to save His children.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sacrament or publicity stunt?

Progressive Catholics all over the world fell in love with this picture of an elderly Argentine priest, Fr. Carlos Varas, baptizing little Umma Azul, the daughter of a married lesbian couple, Soledad Ortiz and Karina Villarroel, in the grandiose setting of the Cordoba Cathedral, a moment the two then sealed with a subversive kiss. Moreover, the use of the cathedral for the baptism had been approved by the Archbishop himself, Mons. Carlos Ñañez.

Serious Catholics, however, should read more deeply and take this event with a huge grain of salt. Ortiz and Villarroel are far from the most suitable poster children for gay Catholic families. First, Villaroel, a police sergeant, has candidly admitted to various media outlets that she and the baby's biological mother, Ortiz, a hairdresser, are "not practicing Catholics." Despite this, she claims that having their child baptized is important to them. But baptism is not about making a statement; it's a commitment on the part of the parents and godparents to raise that child in the Catholic faith. We can only hope that down the line we will be seeing Umma Azul's First Communion and her Confirmation, and that her parents will find a parish where they feel comfortable and attend Mass regularly.

This baptism became front page news primarily because the couple chose Argentina's president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to be the girl's godmother. And, again, they were explicit that they chose the president to show their gratitude to her for promoting the country's marriage equality law. They had hoped that Fernández herself would attend the baptism but instead the president sent her naval aide-de-camp, Claudia Fenocchio, to represent her at the event. But godparents are to be chosen because they are Catholics in good standing who can help the parents raise the child in the faith, not for political or material reasons. An additional unnamed couple who are friends of the couple also served as godparents after the archbishop told the priest to instruct the couple to find someone who would realistically aid in their child's religious education. Another red flag.

The baptism was immediately hyped worldwide with gay Catholic support groups such as New Ways Ministry claiming to see the influence of Pope Francis' more pastoral approach to homosexuals in the Archbishop's decision. These groups need to step back and hold their applause. This is the same Archbishop Ñañez who, in 2010, initiated the process that ended in 2013 with Fr. Nicolas Alessio's formal dismissal from the clerical state. Fr. Alessio's crime? Publicly supporting marriage equality while the Catholic Church in Argentina was aggressively campaigning against it.

And Fr. Alessio, interviewed by Telam, takes a much less rosy view of this baptism/publicity stunt. "First of all, I want to clarify that the archbishop (Carlos Ñañez) didn't 'authorize' this baptism, because it's a sacrament that's denied to no one. It's not some benevolent act." Mons. Ñañez said the same thing in remarks to the Catholic news agency, AICA, in which he lamented the media's exploitation of the event and stressed that the case of the little girl was "like that of any other person seeking baptism. The girl is the one who will be receiving baptism. It's her right."

Alessio said that the baptism "did not mean any change whatsoever on the part of the Church, but it's a proselytizing gesture to regain believers, but the underlying issue hasn't changed. It's just a change in strategy." He also added that this is not the first case of the child of a same-sex couple being baptized since he himself had performed two such baptisms, although without the high visibility. So while it's tempting to look at this cute couple and their sweet little daughter receiving her first sacrament and think it means change has come, real equality in the Roman Catholic Church is still a long way off.

For the record, Archbishop Ñañez also denied rumors that he had given authorization for the couple to be confirmed in the Church, much less married, as some media accounts have suggested the couple's next demand might be. He said he did not talk to them personally but that they "came here and, without speaking to me, and with precise instructions were sent on their way to a parish where they had to meet the necessary requirements for baptismal preparation. Her mother and the elected godparents. That's all."