Friday, October 10, 2014


by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
October 12, 2014

Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus knew very well how much the peasants of Galilee enjoyed the weddings that were celebrated in the villages. Undoubtedly he himself had taken part in more than one. What experience could have been more joyful for those people than being invited to a wedding and being able to sit down with their neighbors to share a wedding banquet together?

This vivid childhood memory helped him at one point to communicate his experience of God in a new and surprising way. According to Jesus, God is preparing a final banquet for all His children since He wants to see all of them seated next to Him, enjoying a fully blissful life forever.

We could say that Jesus saw his whole life as one big invitation to a final feast in the name of God. So Jesus doesn't impose anything by force, he doesn't pressure anybody. He proclaims the Good News of God, arouses trust in the Father, fires up hope in their hearts. His invitation must reach everyone.

What has happened to this invitation from God? Who is announcing it? Who is hearing it? Where is this final feast spoken of in the Church? Satisfied with our well-being, deaf to everything but our immediate interests, it seems we no longer need God. Are we gradually becoming used to living without the need to nourish ultimate hope?

Jesus was a realist. He knew God's invitation could be rejected. The parable of the "wedding guests" talks about the different reactions of the guests. Some reject the invitation consciously and roundly: "They didn't want to go." Other responded with absolute indifference: "They ignored it." Their lands and their businesses mattered more to them.

But, according to the parable, God doesn't become discouraged. Above all, there will be a final feast. God's wish is that the banquet room be filled with guests. So one must go to the "crossroads" where so many wanderers without hope or a future, are walking. The Church must go on announcing with faith and joy God's invitation proclaimed in the Gospel of Jesus.

Pope Francis is concerned about preaching that becomes obsessed with "the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed." (EG 35) The greatest danger according to him is that it will no longer be "the Gospel which is being preached, but certain doctrinal or moral points based on specific ideological options. The message will run the risk of losing its freshness and will cease to have 'the fragrance of the Gospel'." (EG 39)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Can the poor receive communion?

By Jorge Costadoat, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Reflexión y Liberación
October 8, 2014

This question is hard. I know. Hard on the poor. It might be hurtful to them. But this question is not against them. They know that.

In my country, Chile, it's normal for the poor to form their families little by little. When life smiles on them, they come to have their own house and, if they're Catholics, they get married in the Church. There is nothing more wonderful than a religious marriage celebrated after making a long journey of great effort, with all the winds against you. The best of all worlds is having reached this point, having brought up your children and still having the strength to take on the grandchildren.

The working class family is a miracle. It consists of people who tend to come from very precarious human situations, have gotten ahead by overcoming great adversity and, if that weren't enough, bear the scorn for being poor. Society looks askance at them and blames them for their destitution! They do not live as they should.

She already had a child. She got pregnant at fifteen. He also had a child elsewhere. They fell in love and went off to live together in a room they could rent. But in a few months, life there became impossible for them. The child cried. The bathroom wasn't enough for everyone. In the refrigerator, they had a minimal space reserved for the baby bottle and nothing more. There were rumors of a land takeover. A political party offered them a share. They decided to run the risk because it was dangerous to try it. In the camp, a third child was born...of both of them. Together the four withstood the lack of water, the filth, the trips to the hospital, the bad environment...Thanks to the leaders and the assemblies, they fought for a house and got it. Getting married in the Church never crossed their minds. Civilly, yes. But they didn't want to do it until they could offer a fiesta in the place they would live forever. In the meantime, she arranged to leave the children with a neighbor and thus be able to be employed in a private home. He, a construction worker, was a real go-getter. He rarely lacked work. But to get to the job, he often had to take two buses, a trip that took him an hour and a half or two hours in all.

What piety is possible under these living conditions? A very deep one. I know. It's not a matter of talking about it. I would have to extend my remarks. I just want to make it known that the working class Christian communities are composed of people like these. They themselves are the ones who got land for the chapel, built it, and water the garden. These same people are responsible for the catechesis of their children. In these communities, at Sunday Mass, at the moment of Communion, no one is denied anything.

If the poor couldn't receive communion, the Church wouldn't be the Church.

Pope Francis' "NO"s

By Victor Codina, SJ
Cristianisme i Justícia Blog
September 30, 2014

The Pope's constant smile, his tender gestures towards children and the sick, his homilies about mercy, his writings about the joy of the Gospel...could offer us a false image of the bishop of Rome were these very positive aspects not complemented by some of his prophetic denunciations, his numerous "NO"s.

Jesus of Nazareth's life and message would also be incomplete and even counterfeit if the beatitudes and his predilection for the poor and the little ones were not completed by his criticism of the scribes and the Pharisees, by his "woe to you rich", by the expulsion of the merchants from the temple which triggered his passion and death on the cross -- "You cannot serve God and mammon."

Francis prophetically denounces the aspects of our society that are contrary to the gospel of the Kingdom: NO to an economy of exclusion and inequality, NO to an economy that kills, an economy without a human face, NO to an unjust social and economic system that is crystallized in unjust social structures, NO to a globalization of indifference, NO to the idolatry of money, NO to money that rules rather than serves, NO to inequality that engenders violence (let no one hide behind God to justify violence), NO to social insensitivity that anesthetizes us to the suffering of others, NO to the arms race and the war industry, NO to human trafficking, NO to any form of induced death...Basically Francis is updating the commandment not to kill and to defend the value of human life from beginning to end. Francis is updating Yahweh's question to Cain, "Where is your brother?"

But along with this prophetic denunciation of our society, Francis also criticizes the attitudes of Christians and the Church that are contrary to the gospel: NO to spiritual worldliness, NO to pastoral acedia (or apathy), NO to sterile pessimism, NO to the prophets of doom, NO to the disenchanted sourpusses, NO to sad Christians with funeral faces that look like Lent without Easter, NO to war among ourselves, let us NOT be robbed of community, of the gospel, of the ideal of brotherly and sisterly love, NO to those who think that nothing can change, NO to a self-referential Church that is closed in on itself, NO to moralistic obsession that forgets the joyful proclamation of the gospel, NO to pastors who think they're the princes of the Church and are always at the airport, NO to clericalism, NO to those who want to go back to the past before the Council [Vatican II], NO to fake happiness and flight attendant smiles, NO to those who convert the sacraments into customs offices and confession into a torture chamber, NO restricting the missionary power of popular piety which is the fruit of the Spirit, NO becoming experts in apocalyptic diagnoses, NO reducing the gospel to a personal relationship with God and à la carte charity, NO to a religion limited to the private sphere and to preparing souls for heaven. Not falling into doctrinal errors isn't enough if we are passive or complicit in injustice and in the governments that maintain it...

Behind Francis' "NO"s is a truly gospel image of the Church and the desire for a better, more just and egalitarian world, closer to the Kingdom of God. Francis' joy is not a worldly joy or fruit of an optimistic temperament but the joy that springs from the gospel of Jesus dead and risen and from the vivifying power of his Spirit: "Don't let them steal our hope."

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Families and marriage: reflections about the Synod

By José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teología Sin Censura blog
October 3, 2014

On the eve of the celebration of the Synod on the Family, if, indeed, the most pressing issues that apparently will be raised in that Synod will be primarily moral, it is possible -- even likely -- that the following reflections might be of some use.

1. A preliminary question which could be of enormous importance, would be for the Church hierarchy to wonder why its teachings are in such different spheres when they face problems related to money and problems related to love between human beings. Too often when the ecclesiastical hierarchy and Catholic theology refer to matters mainly about the rights of property, money, capital, profits and asset accumulation, the theological and magisterial teachings usually remain in the realm of the speculative, the generic and the merely hortatory, whereas when the Hierarchy and Theology raise and seek to solve the problems and situations that affect the loving relationship between people, the magisterial and theological response goes straight to decisions, that is, it isn't limited to doctrinal speculation, or even to exhortation, but promptly grounds itself in choices, which translates into standards, laws that prohibit or impose, even with strict punishment for those who don't conform to an alleged "natural law", which, being presented as constitutive of the same nature created and loved by God, doesn't allow for discussion, let alone any kind of rejection.

This disagreement -- this inconsistency, even -- between the "teaching on money" and the "teaching on love" is something that is, first of all, so patent and, on the other hand, so inexplicable, that the effect of all this on the public is usually scandalizing. And consequently a discredit to the Church, which thus loses credibility and authority to talk about two issues as crucial to the lives of citizens as the beliefs they must assume towards the problems posed by the economy and problems we experience in the family. Because, when facing two huge problems like money and love, we should never forget that these two areas of life -- the economy and the family -- are so closely linked to each other that, as we shall soon see, in practice they are inseparable. By which I mean that either both are solved simultaneously with the same forcefulness and the same language, or the opposite effect happens, which is that, when attempting (unconsciously) to separate two areas of life and society which can not be separated, what you get is a loss of credibility, both in what the Church says (or doesn't say) about money and capital and in what the Church says (or doesn't say) about the defining experience of love between human beings.

The examples and questions -- about the problem I just pointed out -- are mounting and becoming more accentuated day by the day. Why is the Church so demanding when it comes to abortion (I am not pro-abortion), defending the life of the embryo and fetus, and isn't equally engaged and demanding in the endless issues raised by the appalling problem of child trafficking, the use and abuse of children in forced labor, in wars, in the buying and selling of organs, etc, etc? Why does the Church impose "latae sententiae" excommunication on those who get abortions, and doesn't resort to the same punishment for those who force children to go to war as soldiers or to work up to twelve hours a day for poverty wages? Why does the Church (in which there are so many exemplary believers) view gay marriage as such a serious threat to the family, and doesn't see the economic conditions that families have to bear, shattered by unemployment, starvation wages, health and job insecurity, poor conditions for the education of their children, etc, etc, as an equally serious or even a greater threat?

2. On issues concerning the family, the Church should always bear in mind that, at least until the fourth century, Christians followed the same constraints and practices with regard to marriage as the pagans around them (J. DUSS VON-WERDT in Myst. Sal., vol. IV/2, 411). Which means that Christians of the first centuries were unaware that Christian revelation had brought something new and specific to the cultural phenomenon of marriage itself. In any case, it is certain that marriage before a priest as a mandatory requirement, first appeared around the year 845 in the Pseudo-Isidorean Decretals and was justified on grounds of civil law not by theological arguments (JG LE BRAS, Histoire des collections canoniques en Occident depuis les Fausses Décrëtales jusqu’à Gratien, Paris, 1931. Cf. J. DUSS-VON-WERDT, op.cit., 414). It's in the late twelfth century, in 1184, that marriage as a sacrament is referred to formally for the first time, at the Council of Verona (DENZINGER-HÜNERMANN, The Magisterium of the Church, No. 761). Moreover, in all this business, it's essential to know that until the 12th and 13th centuries, the time when Christian theology was systematized into an organized body of knowledge, the Church was not only ruled by Roman law but -- as is well known -- custody of the Roman legal tradition fell mainly to the Church. As an institution, the Church's own law in Europe was Roman law. As stated in the Lex Ripuaria of the Franks (61(58) 1), "the Church lives according to Roman law." It is true that the Church was constructing its own law. But it is also true that, as the problems the Church had to face grew in complexity, references to Roman law increased. The Roman material relevant to the Church was recompiled into specific collections, such as the Lex Romana Canonice Compta done in the 9th century. The fact is that, as specialists in these matters have noted, "the Church did not reduce its teachings to the Gospel" (PETER G. STEIN, El Derecho romano en la historia de Europa, Madrid, Siglo XXI, 2001, 57). The whole organizational and legal system of the Church grew not so much on the foundation of the Gospel but of Roman law, lex mundialis as the 619 Council of Seville, led by Saint Isidore, called it (Conc. Hispalense II. Cth. 5. 5. 2. ENNIO CORTESE, Le Grandi linee della Storia Giuridica Medievale, Roma, 2008, 48).

Therefore, if the Church didn't have a problem adapting to the civil and secular laws of the peoples and cultures in which it was growing and to which it got adjusted without putting up any opposition or resistance, why now, when Christianity is an institution of no longer European but global scope, are we rejecting the Church accepting and integrating into its life the customs, traditions and rules of conduct that are most appropriate for each country and time?

3. If to the above we now add the perspective of the most competent sociologists of our time, we will have sufficient evidence to face the problems that come up for families today and the solutions they need, now into the third millennium. First, it should be noted that the traditional family was, above all, an economic unit. The transfer of property was the primary basis of marriage. Moreover, in medieval Europe, marriage was not built on the basis of sexual love, nor was it considered a space where love should flourish. And to all this must be added the inequality between men and women as a constitutive element of the traditional family (cf. ANTHONY GIDDENS, Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives, Madrid, Taurus, 2000, 65-79). Now it is evident that the renewal of the family and marriage must be built on the basis of a fundamental fact, namely: the family is no longer an economic unit, but however, must be built on the basis of sexual love. And above all, it's critical to remember, in any case, that equality of rights between men and women, and the decision-making freedom of both, are the pillars on which marriage and the family can be renewed and reconstructed at this time.

Therefore, the solutions that can be brought to the problems posed to the Synod, namely the issue of divorce, the Church's acceptance of same-sex unions, and contraceptive use, are extremely important questions for hundreds of thousands of people that can be solved without infringing upon the Christian theology of marriage or putting it into question at all. The Church can solve these problems today by modifying current canon law without betraying its faith and tradition at all.

4. From the dogmatic theology perspective, a fundamental question remains to be answered: Isn't the Church's traditional teaching on all the sacraments a doctrine of faith and, therefore, the one on the sacrament of marriage too? Apart from a series of historical facts that are impossible to summarize in this brief study, and if we stick to the conclusion that we can and should support on this capital issue, we can and should state that it is beyond doubt that the concept of what belongs to faith -- and consequently also the concept of heresy -- that was used by the theologians and bishops at Trent, was something very different from what is now meant by these concepts. This is certain, at least with respect to Session VII of the Council of Trent (DENZINGER-HÜNERMANN, nos. 1600-1613). Therefore, we can say with complete certainty that the doctrine on the sacraments which was defined at Trent is not a doctrine of faith in the sense of a set of truths of the divine and Catholic faith. Neither, therefore, is the denial or questioning of the truths set forth in the aforementioned Session VII; such denial does not involve incurring heresy (JOSÉ M. CASTILLO, Símbolos de libertad. Teología de los sacramentos, Salamanca, Sígueme, 1981, 340-341; P. F. FRANSEN, Réflexions sur l’anathème au concile de Trente: ETL 29 (1953) 670; A. LANG, Der Bedeutungswandel der Begriffe “fides” und “haeresis” und die dogmatische Wertung der Konzilsentscheidungen von Viene und Trient: MTZ 4 (1953) 133-146). Consequently, it is clear that the classical formulations of sacramental theology can and should be rethought from a new perspective. And, therefore, these classical formulations can and should be conceived and expressed based on the problems we see and experience today around the sacraments. And with a view to giving the proper solution to such problems.

So, once the "dogmatic corset" that might prevent or hinder the free search for the answer that so many Catholic (or simply Christian) believers need today is loosened, given that the questions being raised at the Synod are both scientifically and theologically “quaestiones disputatae” ("disputed issues"), the most consistent and sure gospel and Christian response will be the response that most humanizes us in kindness, respect, tolerance, and seeking happiness for those who are struggling with doubt, seeking good and love to all and for all.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Synod on the Family: A "Wish List"

I've been reading the results of the preparatory surveys for the Synod on the Family -- and the numerous commentaries and opinions expressed by different individuals and groups. As the Synod begins, I would like to add my "wish list" of things I think this Synod could realistically achieve:

1. De-linking marriage and procreation

To me, one of the most troublesome questions on the initial survey was 7f: "How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?". The Church should not be in the business of promoting increases in births. It should be in the business of promoting responsible parenthood -- Catholic couples having only the number of children they want and are able to provide for. For some couples, the choice to remain childless is reasonable, whether due to life circumstances, the health of the wife or husband, or the desire not to pass on certain genetic abnormalities. The Church needs to respect that decision and allow couples to marry even when they cannot have children or don't want to, and they shouldn't have to lie about their intentions in order to receive the sacrament. It does so already in the case of post-menopausal women so it would not be much of a stretch to extend this practice to those who are childless by choice rather than biology.

2. Ending the prohibition on contraception

As a corollary to the first point, the Church needs to move away from its position that every act of intercourse must be open to procreation. Unlike other mammals, human beings have sex at times when they are not fertile, therefore God and nature obviously intended human sexuality to serve purposes other than merely reproduction. Once the Church really accepts this -- instead of just paying lip service to it -- it becomes possible to accept that Catholic couples may choose the birth control method that works best for them, whether natural family planning or one of the many non-abortifacient methods of contraception (methods that do not destroy a fertilized egg) on the market. There is virtually no adherence by the lay faithful to the current teaching or support for it. This detracts significantly from the overall credibility of the Magisterium and it needs to go.

3. Distinguishing between Catholic sacramental marriage and civil marriage

The Church needs to recognize that it is now operating in the context of a diverse and largely secular society. While it is the Church's duty and responsibility to protect the sanctity of Catholic sacramental marriage, it is not the Church's job to define civil marriage in such a way that it excludes individuals, such as those in same-sex relationships, who want to take advantage of the legal and financial protections that a marriage license offers. So one outcome I would like to see from this Synod is a resolution by the Church to stop using its resources to oppose same-sex marriage legislation. Instead, the Church should focus its resources and energy on ways it can protect and foster Catholic marriages. Just imagine if the money that has been devoted over the years by the various state Catholic conferences to defeating same-sex marriage had been used to make more marriage counseling available to low-income Catholic families...

4. Eliminating unscientific and uncharitable language with respect to homosexuality from the Catechism

Very high on my "wish list" for this Synod would be for the Church to eliminate terms such as "intrinsically disordered" and "objectively disordered" from its discussion of homosexuality in the Catechism and Church teaching. The Church says it bases these derogatory statements on Scripture but the reality is that our understanding of homosexuality has come a long way since Genesis and the Pauline epistles were written, even since the latest version of the Catechism itself was written. CIC 2357-2359 is long overdue for a re-write that reflects a modern understanding of homosexuality.

5. Coping with the reality of "irregular" family situations

This Synod should recognize and affirm as the norm Pope Francis' practice of treating families who don't conform to the Catholic standard with charity and mercy. What does that mean in practice?

a) Children from single-parent families, cohabiting couples or those married only civilly, same-sex couples, etc. should not be denied the sacraments and those families should be made to feel welcome in the Church while encouraged to regularize their situations whenever possible.

b) The teaching that cohabiting couples must be living separately before receiving the sacrament of marriage is often unrealistic in these economic times, particularly when there are children already present, and it should be scrapped.

c) Persons in "irregular" family situations should be encouraged to participate in any activity in the parish where their participation is not explicitly forbidden under Church law. If their status makes them ineligible for some positions such as extraordinary minister of Holy Communion or catechist, they should be urged to consider other ways in which they can serve the Church rather than simply being excluded from ministry.

These are my initial thoughts on changes in policy/teaching/attitude that I would like to see come out of this Synod. I have chosen not to comment on the question of divorced and remarried Catholics and their access to the sacraments since this issue has already been widely discussed by others.