Friday, May 9, 2014

A new relationship with Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
May 11, 2014

John 10: 1-10

In the Christian communities, we need to have a new experience of Jesus by reviving our relationship with him. Put him decisively in the center of our life. Go from a Jesus routinely confessed to a Jesus vitally welcomed. The Gospel of John makes some important suggestions when talking about the relationship of the sheep with their Shepherd.

The first is "hear his voice" in all its freshness and originality. Not confuse it with respect for tradition or with the novelty of fashions. Not let ourselves be distracted or confused by other strange voices that, even though they are heard in the Church, don't communicate his Good News.

It's important to feel that we are called by Jesus "by our name." Let ourselves be attracted by him personally. Discover little by little, and with more and more joy, that no one answers our most critical questions, our deepest longings or our ultimate needs as he does.

"Following" Jesus is crucial. Christian faith isn't believing things about Jesus but believing in him -- trusting in his person. Finding our inspiration in his lifestyle to guide our own experience lucidly and responsibly.

It's vital to walk, having Jesus "before us." Not make our life's journey alone. Experience at some point, albeit clumsily, that it is possible to live life at its root -- that God offered to us in Jesus, more humane, friendlier, closer, and more saving than all our theories.

This living relationship with Jesus is not born in us automatically. It awakens inside us in a fragile, humble way. At the beginning, it's almost just a wish. Generally, it grows amid doubts, questions, and resistance. But, I don't know how, there come a point when contact with Jesus begins to mark our lives decisively.

I'm convinced that the future of faith among us is being decided in large part in the conscience of those of us who feel Christian at this time. Right now, faith is reviving or being extinguished in our parishes and communities, in the hearts of we priests and faithful who form them.

Unbelief begins to penetrate us the moment our relationship with Jesus loses strength or is numbed by routine, indifference or lack of concern. That's why Pope Francis has recognized that "we need to create motivating and healing spaces...places where faith in Jesus is regenerated." We must hear his call.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The canonizations -- an invitation to reflection

By Ivone Gebara (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital (Português / Español)
May 5, 2014

The crowd of faithful in St. Peter's Square on April 27th was impressive. The force of Catholicism publicly reappeared again in all its strength, particularly in its power to propose to the living faithful loyalty to a couple of dead men as symbols of a Christianity/Catholicism well lived. John XXIII and John Paul II were raised to the altar and are now "subjects" of veneration of Catholic people worldwide. Many doubts and criticisms as well as endorsements and praise circulated in the media around the nominees. There is no way to reach a consensus of opinion, given the diversity of the "People of God." The clerical hierarchy responsible for the decisions judged the nominations and made the final decision which was executed by the Pope in a solemn Mass. I don't know if the hierarchs remembered the devotions of the poorest who are not much accustomed to venerating popes, who have often been kings and powerful lords. The devotions of the poor are more often tied to the Virgin Mary, to Jesus, and to more traditional saints like Saint Francis, Saint Joseph, or Saint Expeditus whom they believe to be better able to understand their everyday suffering.

The issues I'm raising go beyond this debate between the nominees to a certain extent and aim to raise another issue. Can we imitate the saints, the martyrs, the heroes, the great leaders? How would that be done? Could it be that they, after death, possess superior qualities exempt from the limits of their personal stories? Might we not be distancing ourselves from our historical and personal responsibility to recognize that each of us has to live his or her story and options? Might we not be leaving aside the actions of women and men in the building of our current story to follow models that, although they had their value, can not be imitated? What should we imitate in them? And how do we actually do it? The questions are existential and not abstract, since they will require a certain personal behavior in our current history.

In the imitation concept as proposed by some Catholic Church groups, more critical considerations in relationship to those chosen for sainthood certainly didn't come in. Why not also call attention to the mistakes of the past that should not be repeated? We might perceive more clearly the mixture and contradiction present in human beings and their actions. But probably this critical and realistic procedure would mar the figure of the saint or hero and would be outside the perfectly dualistic scheme present in the Church. It would also be outside of the contrast firmly maintained by most between heaven and earth, between God and man, good and evil, angels and demons. In fact, it has been admitted within the confines of the Church that a saint or a hero has not been perfect, but no one talks directly about what could have been avoided or what may seem objectionable in view of the established and given common good. Those chosen for institutional sainthood appear as prototypes of goodness, courage, and justice so that their weakness and cowardice does not appear. Again, the idealized or "ideal man" as well as the "idealized woman" according to some set parameters, become models for the faithful. This model is out of the ordinary and is able to accentuate useless sacrifices and many kinds of neuroses in the faithful. In addition, we know the lives of saints who inflicted bodily torture and sacrifices on themselves that cannot be imitated now.

I think that we're often not very aware of the alienating implications of imitations. By imitating someone, I stop demonstrating my own gifts, I leave aside my own way of being, I no longer recognize my own ability and, in a certain way, I'm diminished through seeking my personal fulfillment in an outsider. The imitation proposed in Catholicism isn't theatre where the actor or actress interprets a passionate romantic or a cruel dictator and then goes back to being an actor waiting for new roles. The imitation that the Church proposes is a sort of conformity to an ideal of life thought to be more perfect than others and therefore worthy of being imitated. Undoubtedly many faithful know that certain chosen personal experiences cannot be imitated. In that case, the virtues the saint presumably had are exalted and those virtues are proclaimed because they strengthen the convictions of the religious institution. It's interesting to note that the virtue of obedience to a model of human being that the Church deems closer to divine will appears to be a constant in the models of sainthood. The saints are, with few exceptions, submissive to the hierarchical Church and if they weren't in life, became so after death. The saint's life is reinterpreted to serve the interests and values advocated by the institution.

Another issue is knowing what criteria to follow to raise someone to the altar and decree that person's life worthy of imitation. What motivates some people to want to turn another person into a saint? Do they think this might promote and add value and glory to the faithful departed? What reasons does the papacy have for accepting and declaring their sainthood? How can the judges of a cause for beatification or canonization judge that that individual was pleasing to God? What God are we talking about? What model of God is at play? What are the political and economic implications of these actions that suddenly put a halo on the head of a "dead person" and order holy cards printed to be sold or distributed to the faithful? Not even to speak of the extraordinary miracles that are often required to prove someone's sanctity.

Why not say that people, and certainly that includes those who have physically left this story, inspire us, help us to carry our burdens, teach us according to our needs? Inspiration seems a phenomenon that indicates greater freedom than imitation. But canonizations don't go that way. They have to do with the Canon, with laws that have been established for the faithful even as it's said that each one is free to accept or not the life of this or that saint as his or her model.

I realize I have more questions than answers, and the questions manifest my concern regarding the direction Pope Francis is taking in relation to the place of devotions in the lives of Catholics. While recognizing the quality of his person, his words and actions towards the poor of this world, the contradiction in his theology worries me. And this contradiction, in my view, diminishes the strength of his words, especially when we are talking about justice in human relationships.

Sometimes one has the impression that the Pope is captive of a religious scheme established and consecrated by the Vatican. However much he tries to break down the hierarchies and formalities with simpler gestures, in situations like canonizations, he surrenders to these proceedings and becomes publicly complicit in them.

Do we still need canonizations? Might they not go against the affirmation of freedom as a prerogative of human beings? Might they not reinforce the hierarchies so present in our world, hierarchies that exclude some, favor others, and mark social and sometimes even ontological differences between people?

Do we need such pompous ceremonies, attended by chiefs of state, ambassadors, kings and princes to corroborate, in appearance, such actions by the Pope? Undoubtedly many people see all this as a recognition of the power of the Church and, above all, an acknowledgement of the virtues and qualities of the candidates to sainthood. People's need to worship is still alive at the political, artistic, and religious level. This is not about denying different groups the right to build a religious fan club, but helping them to develop a reflection that makes them more free and responsible for the fate of the world and their personal life.

Once more we are invited to think, to try to better understand what is happening to us and what is being proposed. Faith cannot be forgetting our historically established values. It can't be reduced to subscribing to someone else's project, however good she or he may be. Faith is not trivial but vital. Faith is not obscurity and blind obedience but welcoming life in all its diverse aspects, accepting the originality of my character, my path, its lights and shadows. But let us not forget that all this dwells in the diversity of life, not reducible to one model, one form, and one language.

I thinks it's necessary to think, even knowing that many people's thoughts don't influence the masses or the hierarchy either. We cannot let go of the dignity and the great adventure of being able to think about life again and again, to sense it from different places and in different ways, and assume our role on our piece of ground. Such a stance has consequences in our lives, in our beliefs and the relationship we have with people and institutions. Life does not ask us to conform our own lives to those of others, but to let our originality, which is watered by the contributions and inspiration of many, bloom.

Monday, May 5, 2014

CDF Prefect Gerhard Muller takes LCWR to task

UPDATE 5/13/2014: Since this article was written, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has issued a more detailed statement regarding their meeting with Cardinal Müller. They called their conversation with him "constructive in its frankness and lack of ambiguity. It was not an easy discussion, but its openness and spirit of inquiry created a space for authentic dialogue and discernment." LCWR added that it was "saddened to learn that impressions of the organization in the past decades have become institutionalized in the Vatican, and these institutionalized perceptions have led to judgments and ultimately to the doctrinal assessment. During the meeting it became evident that despite maximum efforts through the years, communication has broken down and as a result, mistrust has developed. What created an opening toward dialogue in this meeting was hearing first-hand the way the CDF perceives LCWR. We do not recognize ourselves in the doctrinal assessment of the conference and realize that, despite that fact, our attempts to clarify misperceptions have led to deeper misunderstandings." The nuns also reaffirmed their "commitment to stay at the table and talk through differences."

Barbara Marx Hubbard, who was the target of some of Müller's most critical remarks, gave her own response, arguing that her writing has been inspired by Christian thinkers such as "Teilhard de Chardin, Ilia Delio, John Haught, Beatrice Bruteau, Fr. Thomas Berry, David Richo, Diarmuid O'Murchu, and others. And of course, from the New Testament itself..." She added that "meeting with so many women religious through LCWR, I see conscious evolution in action. They have been evolving the church and the world for hundreds of years through deep gospel living, a mystical presencing, faithfulness in serving unmet needs, solidarity with Earth, building community as 'whole-makers,' risk-taking for the sake of the mission, genius for cooperative self-governance and decision making, and above all bringing love and hope for the future into the lives of millions."

It would seem from Cardinal Gerhard Müller's address to officials of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious during their visit to Rome last week, that there is a vast paradigmatic gap between the American nuns and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Obviously, LCWR continues to view the Vatican's doctrinal assessment of their organization as a flawed document and at best, only a suggestive starting point for negotiations about how they will conduct business in the future.

Cardinal Müller, who evidently is either ignorant of -- or is choosing to ignore -- the more democratic mindset that prevails in the Catholic Church in the United States, including among women religious in this country, seems determined to impose the mandate in its entirety on LCWR. And Archbishop Sartain seems to be caught in the middle -- too much the obedient Catholic prelate to effectively mediate between the CDF and LCWR, too American to have the heart to impose the more dictatorial parts of the mandate on his "sisters".

Müller starts out by mentioning the progress he feels has been made, particularly in the "revision of the LCWR Statutes and civil by-laws." But the speech quickly takes a negative turn. He draws the distinction between himself and the nuns very clearly. LCWR, the cardinal points out, has consistently believed that the doctrinal assessment is "flawed and the findings based on unsubstantiated accusations" and he notes that the organization repeated its objections in the preface to its latest book, Spiritual Leadership for Challenging Times. In contrast, he asserts his opinion that the assessment is "accurate" and -- hyperbolically, in our opinion -- adds that "the path of reform it lays before the LCWR remains necessary so that religious life might continue to flourish in the United States."

Cardinal Müller dwells on two points in particular. First, he refuses to accept LCWR's view that the requirement that the organization have its speakers pre-approved by Archbishop Sartain is a "disproportionate sanction." He obviously doesn't understand or accept the long tradition of independence women's religious congregations have enjoyed, particularly in the United States. In a tone that, while trying to be helpful comes across as vaguely menacing, the prefect asserts that this pre-screening is intended to be "a point of dialogue and discernment. It allows the Holy See's Delegate to be involved in the discussion first of all in order to avoid difficult and embarrassing situations wherein speakers use an LCWR forum to advance positions at odds with the teaching of the Church. Further, this is meant as an assistance to you, the Presidency, so as to anticipate better the issues that will further complicate the relationship of the LCWR with the Holy See."

And Muller specifically takes LCWR to task for giving a platform and its Outstanding Leadership Award of 2014 "to a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian's writings. This is a decision that will be seen as a rather open provocation against the Holy See and the Doctrinal Assessment. Not only that, but it further alienates the LCWR from the Bishops as well." That would be Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, whose 2007 book Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God, was condemned by the USCCB's Committee on Doctrine. Müller even has the gall to suggest that had LCWR involved Archbishop Sartain in its decision on whom to honor, it might have chosen differently. Clearly this man does not know American nuns. He adds that the choice of Sr. Johnson demonstrates that the selection process "is itself in need of reexamination". While he understands that the LCWR 2014 Assembly cannot be changed, Müller asserts that the "provision is to be considered fully in force" and that "it will be the expectation of the Holy See that Archbishop Sartain have an active role in the discussion about invited speakers and honorees" in the future.

The second bone of contention between LCWR and the CDF, according to Cardinal Müller, is what he views as LCWR's excessive interest in Conscious Evolution, following futurist Barbara Marx Hubbard's address to the group on that subject in 2012. Müller asserts that every issue of LCWR's newsletter since then has talked about the concept in some way. Müller's bottom line? "The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation and, when taken unreflectively, lead almost necessarily to fundamental errors regarding the omnipotence of God, the Incarnation of Christ, the reality of Original Sin, the necessity of salvation and the definitive nature of the salvific action of Christ in the Paschal Mystery. My concern is whether such an intense focus on new ideas such as Conscious Evolution has robbed religious of the ability truly to sentire cum Ecclesia...I am worried that the uncritical acceptance of things such as Conscious Evolution seemingly without any awareness that it offers a vision of God, the cosmos, and the human person divergent from or opposed to Revelation evidences that a de facto movement beyond the Church and sound Christian faith has already occurred."

For those who might be newcomers to this debate, "Conscious Evolution" according to Wikipedia "refers to the claim that humanity has now acquired the ability to choose what the species Homo Sapiens becomes in the future, based on recent advancements in science, medicine, technology, psychology, sociology, and spirituality. Conscious evolution assumes that human beings may be positioned at the crest of the ongoing evolution of the universe. Conscious evolution suggests that humanity can choose advancement through co-operation and co-creation or self-destruction through separateness and competition." According to Müller (another hyperbole alert!), "the futuristic ideas advanced by the proponents of Conscious Evolution are not actually new. The Gnostic tradition is filled with similar affirmations and we have seen again and again in the history of the Church the tragic results of partaking of this bitter fruit. Conscious Evolution does not offer anything which will nourish religious life as a privileged and prophetic witness rooted in Christ revealing divine love to a wounded world. It does not present the treasure beyond price for which new generations of young women will leave all to follow Christ. The Gospel does! Selfless service to the poor and marginalized in the name of Jesus Christ does!" Despite what Cardinal Müller seems to think, the nuns in LCWR are quite capable of listening to and evaluating new concepts like Conscious Evolution while maintaining their age-old service to the poor and marginalized in whom they see the face of Christ.

Cardinal Müller ended his address by saying that women religious are "the ones who instilled in me a love for the Lord and for the Church and encouraged me to follow the vocation to which the Lord was calling me." According to the usual tactful "just the facts" press statement issued by LCWR this afternoon, "Archbishop Müller's opening remarks released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith accurately reflect the content of the mandate communicated to LCWR in April 2012. As articulated in the Cardinal's statement, these remarks were meant to set a context for the discussion that followed. The actual interaction with Cardinal Müller and his staff was an experience of dialogue that was respectful and engaging."

RIP: Dom Tomás Balduino, the bishop of "the poor of the Earth"

Religión Digital (English translation by Rebel Girl)
May 3, 2014

Brazilian Bishop Tomás Balduíno, known for his defense of agrarian reform and for the rights of the "poor of the Earth" and indigenous people, has died in Goiania, the capital of the state of Goiás, the Comisión Pastoral de la Tierra (CPT), which he founded, said today.

Balduíno, bishop emeritus of Goiás Velho, died Friday night at 91 as a result of a pulmonary embolism in the Neurological Hospital of Goiania, where he had been hospitalized for several days, according to the same sources.

"Dom Tomás Balduíno, the bishop of agrarian reform and the indigenous people, has left us his example of struggle, hope, and belief in the God of the poor," the CPT, an organization linked to the Brazilian bishops which for decades denounced the violence against the peasants as a result of the land conflicts in Brazil, stated in its release.

Always on the side of the least advantaged, Balduino closely supported the creation of the "Movimiento del Coste de Vida" ("Cost of Living Movement") as well as the "Campaña Nacional para la Reforma Agraria" ("National Campaign for Agrarian Reform").

Moreover, he was a key player in the creation of the Consejo Indigenista Misionario ("Indigenous Missionary Council" -- CIMI) and the Comisión Pastoral de la Tierra ("Pastoral Commission for the Earth" -- CPT), both linked to the Brazilian bishops.

After a long period of giving seminars and congresses, in 2003 he was appointed member of the Consejo Nacional de Desarrollo Económico y Social ("National Economic and Social Development Council" -- CDES), linked to the national government, a position he abandoned shortly thereafter, "feeling that it contributed little or nothing to the change desired by the Brazilian nation."

Balduino's body will be waked in the Iglesia Sao Judas Tadeu in the Goiana capital until 10 a.m. on Sunday, when a Mass in his honor will be celebrated. Afterwards, he will be moved to the Goiás Velho Cathedral where he will remain until Monday, when he is due to be buried.