Friday, August 15, 2014

Jesus is for everyone

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
August 17, 2014

Matthew 15:21-28

A pagan woman takes the initiative to come to Jesus even though she doesn't belong to the Jewish people. She's a distraught mother who's suffering because her daughter is "tormented by a demon." She goes out to meet Jesus shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David." Jesus' first reaction is unexpected. He doesn't even stop to listen. The time hasn't come yet to bring the Good News of God to the pagans. Since the woman insists, Jesus justifies his actions: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

The woman doesn't back down. She will overcome all difficulties and resistance. In a bold gesture, she prostrates herself before Jesus, stops him in his path and on her knees, with a humble but steadfast heart, she addresses just one cry to him, "Lord, help me."

Jesus' response is unusual. Although at that time the Jews called the pagans "dogs" quite naturally, his words are offensive to our ears: "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs." Taking up his image intelligently, the woman dares to correct Jesus from the ground, "You're right, Lord, but even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters."

Her faith is admirable. Surely everyone can be fed at the Father's table -- the children of Israel and the pagan dogs too. Jesus seems to think only of the "lost sheep" of Israel, but she is a "lost sheep" too. The Messenger of God can not be just for the Jews. He must be everyone's and for all.

Jesus surrenders before the woman's faith. His answer reveals his humility and greatness: "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." This woman is showing him that God's mercy doesn't exclude anyone. The Good Father is above the ethnic and religious barriers that we humans draw.

Jesus recognizes the woman as a believer even though she lives in a pagan religion. He even finds "great faith" in her, not the tiny faith of his disciples whom he reproaches more than once as "men of little faith." Any human being can come to Jesus with confidence. He can recognize their faith even though they're outside the Church. They will always find in him a Friend and a Teacher of life.

We Christians ought to rejoice that Jesus still attracts so many people who are outside the Church today. Jesus is bigger than all our institutions. He continues to do a lot of good, even to those who have turned away from our Christian communities.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hear, Israel

by José Arregi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
August 13, 2014

The truce is not enough. The blood of innocent children, women, civilians of Gaza, and even the despairing blood of its militiamen cries out against you from the bottom of the ruins, from the root of the tragedy. You, Abel of many crimes throughout history, have become Cain for your Palestinian brothers. The roles have switched. Through them, the blood of Abel cries to you. And their cry will not cease until their pain no longer hurts you, until you respect their dignity, recognize their rights, and repair their ruins.

Also of them, not just of you, the Burning Infinite One spoke, when He said to Moses from the burning bush: "I have witnessed their affliction, I have heard their cries, I know their suffering. I will come down to release them. Go and set them free."

You will not have peace until you do them justice. You will not be free until you free your Palestinian brothers and sisters, enslaved and slaughtered by you, bombarded from land, sea and air, after you have locked them in that miserable strip 40 km long and 7 km wide where almost two million people live overcrowded, in the devastated remains of what was their land for millennia, now a prison and a tomb.

Hear again the oracles of your ancient prophets, beacons and watchtowers of world history. Second them, even if it's only the law of retaliation: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", a humanitarian law when your ancestors made it, as it would curb excessive revenge: "If someone tears out one of your eyes, don't tear out both of his." You, however, for each one of your dead soldiers, have killed 30 Palestinians -- mostly children, women and civilians -- and you still consider that ratio unacceptable.

Jesus of Nazareth, another of your own, a compassionate rebel prophet, went much further: "Don't return evil for evil." And what's more: "Love your enemy. And when someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other one to him as well." Was Jesus crazy? Is such a principle applicable in policy? Maybe it isn't. But what use is policy that isn't inspired by compassion? Look what revenge leads to. Look where we're going, where you're going.

You say: "We have the right to exist as a people, to have a land and live secure in it." You're right. Absolutely right. You have suffered enough for thousands of years. You have been deported, exiled, persecuted. You have been exterminated. Your consciousness of being a people and the history of the horrors you've endured are your argument, and it's unquestionable.

Well, today the fulfillment of your right to live in peace in your land is in your hands more than in anyone else's. But hear, Israel: You will never achieve it as long as your policy and those of your allies deny the same right to your sister nation. The land that the UN granted you exclusively in 1948 was a land inhabited by others, and there originated this tragic confrontation of rights, which the unequal and unending war between the arrogant violence of your winning nation and the desperate violence of the vanquished, invincible in their despair, has turned increasingly tragic and insoluble. But after 66 years, it's as clear as the waters of Hermon that neither your state violence nor the violence of Hamas is the solution. Rather, both need each other to legitimize their common goal: the elimination of the enemy. You're going to hell on the same road.

Will there be no other horizon than a shared hell, then? That depends on you, Israel, even more than on the Palestinians. Comply with UN resolution 242, which has been reiterated over and over, and always violated by you, supported by your powerful friends. Return to the 1948 borders, abandon the territories occupied in the 1967 war, dismantle the settlements, agree to share the capital of Jerusalem, seek the most fair and reasonable solution possible for the 5 million Palestinian refugees. If you want to, you can do it.

Look at the children of Gaza, all orphans, who, nonetheless, play on the beaches and among the ruins of their homes. They can't do it, nor do they know how, but their eyes reveal the only just solution to you. And listen to your best citizens who demonstrate in your streets against the criminal and senseless policy of your government. They can't either, but they know the only way. They, and the children of Gaza, will teach you how you can live in peace in your land.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Diocese of Canarias expels married gay teacher

By Txemana Santana (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El País
August 11, 2014

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the section on homosexuality and chastity, acknowledges the existence of gay people and invites them to practice chastity, for having an "intrinsically disordered" life. Luis Alberto González, a professor of religion on the island of Lanzarote, got a message telling him that "it is no longer appropriate" for him to continue to be in the classroom.

Gonzalez, who used to be a priest, married a man two years ago. Then he sent a letter to the bishop, informing him of his situation. After 24 months of silence and after sending a letter to the editor of El País titled "Good News" [English translation below], he received the notice that put him on the path to unemployment. The Ministry of Education of the Canary Islands had confirmed his position as professor for the term that starts in less than a month.

A brief faxed statement explained Luis Alberto Gonzalez's dismissal: "For reasons of doctrine and morality and under canon law, your suitability as a religion teacher is retracted." The sender was the Bishop of the Canarias. Gonzalez is taking it casually, saying "I knew it could happen" and assuming that "it is what it is." He says he believes that he doesn't fit the profile the Catholic Church is looking for and has no problems recognizing that he isn't suitable. "Of course, I recognize it and so I'm asking them to terminate me fairly and to be entitled to unemployment benefits. I'll find a way."

After 15 years with an unblemished record, the teacher says that "people grow up" and that, in his case, he has "distanced himself from certain Catholic principles." One of these departures was when, being true to his conscience, he married his partner in 2012. He always thought that "in a matter of private life, there was not need to offer explanations," but says he knows the Church and, "given that the marriage institution has public repercussions," he alerted the Diocese and put his job in their hands.

González also questions the "manipulation of beliefs by those who have power in religion." Following "a religion that considers itself God's spokesman to the point of getting into all areas of life of what a person should do" doesn't seem appropriate to him. The teacher argues that "there are elements of the citizenry, such as the people who make up the educational community, who don't think it's bad for someone who is gay and married to teach religion, but as you go up the pyramid of the Catholic hierarchy, one is aware that they're on a different wavelength, advocating certain themes, including ones that could be considered medieval."

The Diocese of Canarias referred back to the notice sent to the teacher, concise and without reference to the long silence it had maintained. His employment status is now uncertain. On the one hand, late last month, the Ministry of Education issued the list of teachers which included him for the next term. Later, he was told that he doesn't meet the necessary values to teach the subject he's teaching. From the Canary Islands Government, the Deputy Minister of Education, Manuela Armas stated: "At the end of the month, we will know what is happening with this teacher, because the diocese has not informed us yet." Armas argues that "it's the diocese that determines the teachers who ought to teach religion and deems whether they are suitable or not. Now, Education is going to take responsibility for confirming that he is not."

"There will always be those who will say that the Church is like a club. If you don't want to be there, go. I, however, argue -- and I've been a priest -- that you can help change it from within," says the religion teacher and he concludes: "The Church itself has to be revised, take up these debates normally and face them."

Letter to the Editor: "Good News"

I got married civilly to another man in 2012. The fact would not be very significant except that I work in Lanzarote as a professor of Religion at two institutes. At the end of the school year in which the union took place, I considered it appropriate, for openness, put my job in the bishop's hands (in writing even).

The directives of the Church are what they are: Homosexuals are supposed to "live in chastity", because acts that are "intrinsically disordered...under no circumstances can [they] be approved." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, number 2357). Pope Francis, in front of a microphone, talking about not judging the "gay person who is seeking the Lord" is one thing, but accepting a homosexual relationship is something quite different. Moreover, the law grants the bishops the right to propose or withdraw professorships in Religion.

Therefore, I assumed I would be fired, but my employment contract has been renewed year after year. Either the bishop of Canarias doesn't consider the matter very important, or he's taking a new approach to the issue in his jurisdiction. In either case, it's good news.— Luis Alberto González Delgado.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Fray Clodovis Boff: Liberation theology is only possible on the condition of starting and ending on the horizon of faith

by Natasha Pitts (English translation by Rebel Girl)
August 8, 2014

For some time we've been talking about a crisis in liberation theology (LT), a theological current founded 42 years ago, which is characterized by a preferential option for the poor and for the struggle for social justice. In the words of Fray Clodovis Boff -- a religious of the Order of the Servants of Mary who, with his more famous brother Leonardo Boff, was one of the leading LT theologians -- this mode of theologizing "gave what it had to give," that is, it raised awareness about the Church's preferential option for the poor. Nonetheless, "it no longer has a future in the Church" and therefore is losing more and more ground within it.

Even having participated in the founding of LT, Fray Clodovis says he already had reservations because of the lack of theoretical rigor and the prioritization "of politics at the expense of faith." Over the years, seeing that this priority wasn't changing but was being increasingly asserted, he decided to voice his criticism. Today, the religious brother argues that by disappearing into the mainstream of Christian theology, liberation theology is fulfilling its historical mission. ADITAL spoke with Fray Clodovis about the matter. Read the first of a special series of interviews that will be published every Friday by Adital.

Forty-two years later, is liberation theology still alive? Does it still have meaning today?

Fray Clodovis N. Boff: Yes, there are liberation theologians who gather and write. But its decline as a separate trend is undeniable. In my view, liberation theology "prescribed" historically. It gave what it had to give. It raised the Church's consciousness about the preferential option for the poor. Now, that has been basically incorporated, without further discussion, into the normal discourse of the Church. Thus the liberationist current has finally reentered the mainstream of Catholic or universal theology, strengthening and updating what was always an asset of the Church --preferential love for suffering people of all kinds. Liberation theology may even remain as a specimen of the "theology of the genitive," a necessarily partial theology, as when one speaks of the "theology of grace," the "theology of marriage" or even the "theology of St. Paul." Those particular theologies are just elaborated themes of aspects of faith. It was in that sense, as a partial theology in harmony with the whole of the faith, that liberation theology was declared by Pope John Paul II in his Letter to the Bishops of Brazil (4/9/1986) as "timely, useful and necessary" (n. 5). But while liberation theology is claiming to be a complete theology, it no longer has a future in the Church. In fact, it's losing more and more ground within it.

"We want to show here that liberation theology began well but, due to its epistemological ambiguity, it ended up misdirected -- it put the poor in Christ's place. That fundamental inversion led to a second mistake -- the manipulation of faith "for" liberation. Fatal errors, because they compromised the good fruits of this timely theology." (article, 8/16/2008). At what point and why did you become one of the great critics of liberation theology?

Boff:  I've always had reservations about liberation theology, whether because of its lack of theoretical rigor or due to its ideological propensity to prioritize politics at the expense of faith. Although in my doctoral thesis Teologia e prática ["Theology and practice"] published more than 40 years ago (Voces, 1978), I would have already clearly established the priority of faith over politics (especially in Section 2, Chapter 1), I imagined that the priority given to the political would be something transient, whether due to the very urgent social problems we were experiencing in those difficult times (dictatorship and savage capitalism), or by proving to be like a childhood illness, normal for any new historical movement. But when, with the passing of time, it dawned on me, unfortunately, that that priority, instead of ebbing, was asserting itself more and more with serious damage to the identity of the faith, the Church's own mission, and the ultimate destiny of human beings, I decided to explain my criticism openly.

On which points do LT theologians differ?

Boff: The differences aren't minor but fundamental, touching on the very principles of the faith. Who is Lord of the Church? Who occupies His thoughts? Christ or the poor? If we say "Christ", it's guaranteed in principle that the poor will have their "eminent place" in the Church, in Bossuet's words. But if we say "the poor" then Christ can be easily dismissed from society and life, as happens with Marxism.

In some texts you talk about the erosion and crisis in LT. How can this "way of theologizing" face the crisis and stay strong?

Boff: As I said earlier, paradoxically, by disappearing into the mainstream of Christian theology, liberation theology fulfills its historical mission. It's like the sugar cube that only exists to be dissolved in the coffee -- it's still present there, sweetening all the coffee but invisible. Or, in a more biblical metaphor, it's like John the Baptist said, "He must increase and I must decrease," as opposed to the Jews who, called to accept the Messiah, refused to be what they ought to have become. They should have done like Saul, who only fulfilled his destiny by becoming Paul. Such should also be the end point of liberation theology -- becoming just Christian theology after having contributed to its enrichment.

The liberation theologians are growing old. Do you believe in a renewal?

Boff: When one reads the current works by the so-called "liberation theologians," one notes that the discourse is repeated ad nauseam. They're "variations on the same theme" -- the socioeconomically poor and their social liberation. I insist: Liberation theology, like any other type of theology, is only possible on the condition of beginning and also ending on the transcendental horizon of faith. Beyond that, liberation theology will only yield "more of the same". And, just as Pope Francis says that a Church without unconditional faith in Christ is a "pious NGO", so too liberation theology (or any other one) without that same principal faith in Christ, is a religious ideology, competing or collaborating with other ideologies. With that, it makes itself more and more irrelevant, since the world today is tired of ideologies.

Could the opening Pope Francis has been giving to the LT theologians help reinvigorate it?

Boff: The speech and even more, the example of the current Pope could serve as an example for a Christianity that doesn't need ideology, even under a theological label, to deal seriously with the poor. Liberation theology can only be reinvigorated within the Church, within its theological diversity, hence as one particular theology.

How should liberation theologians work on and think about controversial issues like abortion, diversity (homoaffective unions), and women's participation in the Church?

Boff: Just like the issue of the poor, which is central to liberation theology, all these other questions should be dealt with by any theology based on the perennial principles of the faith. But clearly -- and this is the proper role of theologians in the Church -- those principles must be well understood and put up against the experience of history, which has much to teach the Church, as Vatican II recognized in Gaudium et Spes (see GS 44).

And in the case of the Catholic Church, what are its current challenges in the face of so many social, political, and economic demands?

Boff: Certainly, the Church is already doing a lot in the social field and it should do more. But it's necessary to be clear: this is not the Church's "proper" original mission, as Vatican II expressly repeated (see GS 42,2; and also 40,2-3 and 45,1). The social mission is a secondary mission, although necessarily derived from the first, which is of a "religious" nature. This lesson was never understood well by lay thinking. It was the Illuminists who wanted to reduce the mission of the Church to a merely social role. Hence they committed the crime -- cultural as well -- of destroying famous monasteries and forbidding the existence of religious orders, because they believed all that was something completely useless, a mentality that's still going strong in society and even within the Church. Now, if we ask what the Church's greatest challenge is, we must answer that it's man's greatest challenge -- the meaning of his life. It's a question that transcends both societies and time. It's an eternal question which, however, in post-modern times, has become particularly anguishing and widespread. It is first of all to this deeply existential and, today, characteristically cultural question that the Church must respond -- as must all religions, on the other hand -- since they are, based on their essence, "specialists in meaning." Anyone who doesn't see the seriousness of this challenge, both existential and historical, and insists on seeing the social issue as the "big issue", doesn't have his antennas up either in theology or in history either.