Saturday, September 12, 2015

Recognizing Jesus Christ

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 13, 2015

Mark 8:27-35

The episode has a central and decisive place in Mark's story. The disciples have been living with Jesus for some time. The moment has come for them to express themselves clearly. Who are they following? What do they find in Jesus? What do they grasp from his life, his message and his plan?

Since they joined him, they've been asking themselves about his identity. What strikes them is the authority with which he speaks, the power with which he heals the sick, and the love with which he offers God's forgiveness to sinners. Who is this man in whom they feel so present and so close to God as Friend of life and forgiveness?

All kinds of rumors are running around among the people who haven't lived with him, but Jesus is interested in his disciples' position: "But who do you say that I am?" It's not enough that there are different, more or less correct opinions among them. It's essential that those who are committed to his cause, acknowledge the mystery that lies within him. If not, who will keep his message alive? What will become of his plan for the kingdom of God? Where will that group that is trying to implement it end up?

But the question is also vital for his disciples. It affects them radically. It isn't possible to follow Jesus lightly and unconsciously. They have to know him more and more deeply. Peter, recollecting the experiences they have had with him so far, replies on behalf of all: "You are the Messiah."

Peter's confession is still limited. The disciples have not yet known Jesus' crucifixion at the hands of their opponents. They can't even suspect that he will be raised by the Father as a beloved Son. They haven't had experiences that would allow them to grasp everything that lies in Jesus. Only by following him closely, will they gradually discover him with growing faith.

For Christians, it is vital to recognize and acknowledge ever more deeply the mystery of Jesus Christ. If it doesn't know Christ, the Church doesn't know itself. If it doesn't know him, it can not know the most essential and decisive part of its task and mission. But, to know and confess Jesus Christ, it isn't enough to fill our mouths with impressive Christological titles. It's necessary to follow him closely and work with him every day. This is the main task that we must promote in Christian groups and communities.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sister Mónica: Ministering to Trans Women in Argentina

By Marina Herrmann (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Revista OHLALÁ!
September 2015

Sister Mónica Astorga Cremona, a nun who belongs to the Order of Discalced Carmelites, answers the phone and briefly summarizes the mobilization she generated when her work became known: "I told the Pope that, although he urged young people to make trouble, I'm the one who's doing it."

Mónica has come out out in recent weeks in various media in the province of Neuquen, where she lives in a cloistered convent, because of the work she's doing with a group of trans women. But in addition to this work, for many years she has been helping inmates in prisons across the country.

Mónica's voice is cool, calm, and strong, and if a person didn't know her age, they'd bet she wasn't more than thirty or so. However, behind those vocal chords are 30 years of work in the community and 50 years of age. Hence the need to clarify that although the Pope spoke to the young, she's the one who's "making trouble."


Mónica became a nun when she was 20 years old and she remembers that at first her concern was for the young people the same age as her who were taking drugs and ending up drunk, so she devoted her prayers to them.

Then she began to work with prisoners whom she has accompanied for 20 years through letters and phone conversations that she maintains regularly. "With the prisoners, I've always gotten the most conflictive cases because I like challenges."

"Every morning I read the news and the police reports and I often find that one of my prisoners has escaped," she says with a gentle laugh, like the one of a mother when she's talking about her children.

"I feel that God wants me to accompany the wounded and that's why I take responsibility. They often tell me I stand with them; it's that I feel that from that place I can understand them. Because when we look at them from the other side, it's impossible. I get in deep," the sister adds.

And because of this kind of attitude, it's not surprising that in December 2005, when Romina, a trans woman, approached Lourdes Parrish, the bishop decided this was a job for her.

Romina went at that time to the church because she wanted to donate a tenth of her wages. "When the priest asked her where it came from, she told him from prostitution, and she explained that that was the only work she could get. At that point, the priest called me and told me about the case."

"That's how I came to link up with them," Mónica remembers.


The Order of Discalced Carmelite nuns is a community in which the nuns devote themselves to contemplation and live a cloistered life in the convents. However, although Mónica lives in the convent and doesn't go out except for sporadic and specific tasks, she finds a way to generate action.

"The first time I came to see the group of trans women, I asked them to tell me their dreams. One of them, Kathy, told me that hers was to have a clean bed on which to die," says Mónica. At that time the nun contacted a priest, told him about the case and got an abandoned house which eventually became the refuge of the girls, as Mónica calls them.

As she got to know this group of women, she learned how they lived -- that they couldn't hold any job except prostitution because they weren't accepted in any position, that they often didn't finish their studies because they were discriminated against in school, and that hospitals threw them out when they were about to die, so that in most cases they died alone and abandoned.

"When Romina started telling me her story, I couldn't believe it, and when I heard the other girls', it was worse. Every day I'm discovering more things," she adds.

Since Mónica has been working with this group, she has been able to get them a shelter where they can stay if they are ill and where they have a sewing workshop, and she has even helped one of the girls be able to open a hair salon to work in. In addition, she has convinced Kathy to join Alcoholics Anonymous, and she hasn't been drinking for two and a half years.

Mónica admits that within the Church itself there are conflicting opinions as to her work with these people, but says she has the support of Pope Francis and that in her community small advances have already been achieved.

"Once, when Romina had just come to the church, a lady came to find me and told me,"There's a transvestite." I replied that she was a trans woman, and then she asked me what she was doing in the church, to which I replied, "What are you doing here?." At first, she continued questioning me about Romina's presence, until I asked her what would happen if that were your child," she says.

"After a couple of days, she came back and apologized to me, and at the following Mass she went looking for Romina to give her the sign of peace," she adds.


"The center of the Church is Jesus, and he doesn't discriminate," says Mónica, when she explains why she devotes herself to working with groups of people who are usually excluded and rejected.

Moreover, she affirms that Pope Francis knows of the work she is carrying out with this group of women and that he supports her. In an email he wrote her: "In Jesus' time, the lepers were rejected like that. They [the trans women] are the lepers of these times. Don't leave this work on the frontier that is yours."

Mónica thinks the whole society should change so that trans women can be integrated and have a normal life, far from prostitution and drugs. "The girls make a huge effort against the stream. We have to help them and integrate them. They are capable and intelligent people, but they are abused. We ourselves are the ones who lead them to the streets. If society would open the door to them and give them a chance, we could help them get out of this. I want to get them off the streets and out of drugs and alcohol."

To try to understand how people think, Mónica reads the comments on the notes that are published online, especially the police notes. "Whenever I read them, I think who is that person to judge like that and bury another live. You never know what could happen to you tommorrow. The comments I see are terrifying, but they help me understand what people are thinking," she adds.

With the hope of those who believe that nothing is impossible, Mónica confesses her dream: "I want to make SROs for the girls so they can have decent housing. I always tell them I'm dreaming of creating a building. I've already called an architect and -- although I don't have one peso -- told him I would like to have some places for the girls, and be able to rent some offices to help families in need."

"The girls reply that my dream is wonderful, and they tell me, "You surely won't stop until it comes true," she adds enthusiastically.

Finally, Mónica lets it out: "If I could, I would scream at the world to respect them and love them, because they deserve it."

The Pope can allow access of divorced and remarried people to the Eucharist

By José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teología sin Censura blog
August 27, 2015

The problem of the divorced and remarried that is receiving so much attention, is not a dogmatic problem but a pastoral one. There is no dogma of faith in the Magisterium of the Church that requires one to deny Holy Communion to people who are divorced and have remarried. This issue has been studied in detail.

And we know with certainty that in the beginning, Christians followed the same conditions and customs, as regards marriage, as the habits and customs that were followed in the pagan environment (J. Duss-von Werdt in "Mysterium Salutis", IV/2, p. 411).

This situation lasted at least until the 4th century, which means that the Christians of the first centuries were not aware that Christian revelation had brought something new and specific to the cultural fact of marriage itself.

Starting in the 4th and 5th centuries, the first data on nuptial Masses in the Church of Rome appear. But such Masses were celebrated only in the case of marriages of clerics, who were neither priests or deacons (Pope Siricius: PL 13, 1141-1143; Pope Innocent I: PL 20, 473-477).

In the first ten centuries, Mass wasn't even celebrated when lay people got married. Nor in those centuries was the idea that marriage was a sacrament widespread (Schillebeeckx, "Matrimonio", Salamanca 1968, pp 173 [published in English as "Marriage" by Sheed and Ward, 1965]).

The theology of marriage as a sacrament was developed in the 11th and 12th centuries, something that appears in Peter Lombard and the Decretum Gratiani (J. Gaudemet, "El vínculo matrimonial: incertidumbre en la Alta Edad Media" in R, Metz - J. Schlick, Matrimonio y divorcio, Salamanca 1974, pp. 102-103). But both Peter Lombard and Hugh of Saint Victor put the core of marriage not in a sacramental rite but in the "union of hearts" (IV Sent., D. 28, c. 3).

All this explains why Pope Gregory II (726) responds to a query made by Saint Boniface (bishop) in which he asks the Supreme Pontiff: What should the husband whose wife is ill and therefore can not give him his conjugal dues, do?

"It would be well if he should continue as he is and practice continence. But as this is for great men, let the one who cannot be continent, remarry, but let him not stop providing financial assistance to the one who is sick and has not been excluded by some abominable offense."(PL 89, 102-103 Cf. M. Sotomayor, "Tradición de la Iglesia respecto al divorcio": Proyección 28 (1981) 55)

Without any doubt, that divorce was a recognized practice in the Church of the first ten centuries, is clearly noted in a response from Pope Innocent I to Probo (PL 20, 602-603).

Moreover, in this matter we must always remember that, in Roman law, the dissolution of marriage was perfectly admissible, as all specialists in this area have explained (D. 24. 2. 1 (Paul). Cf. A. Burdese, Diritto Privato Romano, 4th ed., 2014, p. 241).

At the same time however, it is crucial to know that, at least during the first ten centuries, the Church took Roman law as its own, and that even "the custody of the Roman legal tradition fell mostly to the Church" (Peter G. Stein, "El Derecho romano en la historia de Europa", Madrid 2001, p. 57 -- originally published in English as "Roman Law in European History" by Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999). So much so that Saint Isidore at the council of Seville in the year 619, proclaimed Roman Law as "lex mundialis" (Conc. Hisp. II, can. 1 y 3. Cf. C. Th. 5.5.2; 5.10.1). Even saying that "Roman law was the mother of all human laws" (Mon. Germ. Hist., Leges II.2, p. 156).

Because of all this, it is understood that the first document of the Magisterium forbidding the dissolution of marriage is from the 13th century (1208), by Pope Innocent III (DH 794). The doctrine of the Council of Florence (1439-1447) on indissoluble marriage, is based on the "Decree for the Armenians" (DH 1327), which is not an infallible document for the whole Church.

The doctrine of the 24th Sess. of Trent (DH 1797), is not a dogma of faith. Nor are the anathemas that follow condemnations excluding one from communion. Specifically, the dog. 7 (DH 1807) was drafted in the mildest form out of consideration for the Greeks, who abided by an opposite practice, that is, they allowed divorce, which the Council didn't want to condemn (cf. DH 1807, note).

In the dogmatic theology treatises on marriage, there isn't a unanimous teaching on this matter. Cardinal G.L. Müller, in his great volume "Dogmática" (Barcelona, 2009, p. 722), only alludes to an argument that is highly debatable, since it mentions that marriage doesn't imprint "sacramental character." But we know that this sacrament does not imprint "character" (as happens with baptism, confirmation and holy orders).

The conclusion is clear: it is not a doctrine of faith that Christian marriage is indissoluble. Therefore, it is not a definitively settled theological question. And therefore, being a "disputed issue", it falls to the Pope or to whomever the Pope chooses to make the decision, in each case, to do what is most appropriate for maintaining due respect, order and conditions of affection and love in the family.

In any case, since it isn't the Pope or the bishop or the priest who is getting married, the views of the parties concerned ought to always be taken into account above all, as they are usually the best people to see what is best for themselves and their children. The view of those directly concerned must always be borne in mind.

Because of all this, the intensity of the problems being raised with an eye to the Synod next October, is strange and hard to understand. No doubt, not just the arguments of tradition and theology (which are ignored frequently by those who argue most passionately) are being taken into account on this issue.

Isn't it suspicious and shocking that this issue, which is properly theological, is part of the political platform of the most fundamentalist parties of the die-hard Right? That's the case of quite a few Republicans in the United States. And also in a number of political parties with fundamentalist tendencies in Latin America and Europe. Why are they advocating a model of marriage and the family that they, apparently, are interested in? Are they advocating this for religious motives or out of political interest? It would be appropriate to clarify this as soon as possible.