Friday, February 5, 2016

Acknowledging sin

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
February 7, 2016

Luke 5:1-11

The story of the "miraculous catch of fish" in the Sea of Galilee was very popular among the early Christians. Several evangelists record the episode, but only Luke ends the narrative with a moving scene that stars Simon Peter, a believing disciple and a sinner at the same time.

Peter is a man of faith, seduced by Jesus. His words have more power for him than his own experience. Peter knows that nobody goes fishing at noon in the lake, especially when you haven't caught anything at night. But Jesus told him to and Peter trusts him completely: "Based on your word, I will throw in the nets."

Peter is also a man of sincere heart. Surprised by the huge catch he got, "he throws himself at Jesus' feet" and with admirable spontaneity says, "Depart from me, for I am a sinner." Peter acknowledges his sin before all and his absolute unworthiness to live closely with Jesus.

Jesus isn't afraid to have a sinful disciple with him. On the contrary, if he feels like a sinner, Peter will be better able to understand his message of forgiveness for all and his acceptance of sinners and the undesirable. "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be a fisher of men." Jesus takes away his fear of being a sinful disciple and associates him with his mission to gather and call men and women of every condition to come into God's saving plan.

Why is the Church so resistant to acknowledge its sins and confess its need for conversion? The Church is of Jesus but it isn't Jesus. Nobody can be astonished that there is sin in it. The Church is "holy" because it is animated by the Holy Spirit of Jesus but it's "sinful" because it often resists that Spirit and departs from the gospel. Sin is in the believers and in the institutions, in the hierarchy and in the people of God, in the pastors and in the Christian communities. We all need conversion.

Habituating ourselves to hiding the truth is very serious because it prevents us from engaging in a dynamic of conversion and renewal. On the other hand, isn't a fragile and vulnerable Church that has the courage to acknowledge its sin more gospel-centered than an institution engaged in vain in hiding its miseries from the world? Aren't our communities more credible when they collaborate with Christ in the work of evangelization, humbly acknowledging their sins and committing to an increasingly gospel-centered life? Don't we have a lot to learn today too from the great apostle Peter acknowledging his sin at the feet of Jesus?

Jorge Costadoat, SJ: "The Pope will have to say something about the homosexuality issue"

by Jorge Costadoat, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
February 1, 2016

The homosexuality issue is new in Latin America. It's about one decade old, two at the most. But the reality is ancient, maybe as much, maybe not, as its censure. Religious censure has been cruel with respect to it. So Pope Francis' mere phrase, "Who am I to judge gays?", has been liberating.

Certainly, raising the subject has been uncomfortable for the older generation in some countries. In other parts of the world there is concern too. In some Protestant churches, it has been accepted that ministers of religion have a gay partner. But in others, there have been furious reactions to this, and against the possibility of legalizing homosexual unions and marriages.

In the Catholic camp, the same tensions are being experienced. Churches in the developed countries expected that some type of recognition would be given to homosexual couples at the Synod on the Family. But the churches of Africa, it is said, would not hear of it. The final text appears to reflect the latter position. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, meanwhile, slams the brakes on this possibility. It doesn't view homosexuality as a perversion, but treats it as an "objectively disordered" inclination (Catechism, 2357). Homosexual people should live out their condition with religious resignation.

However, the openness-oriented Catholics believe they see something like a crack in the wall in the Synod document. The Synod calls for respect for the dignity of homosexual persons. But, moreover, it demands that "specific attention [be] given to guiding families with homosexual members." (76). Who? Homosexual sons and daughters? We think so, obviously. It isn't obvious, however, but neither does the text exclude it, that the indication would apply to potential gay parents.

Was this careless or deliberately ambiguous wording? Advanced moralists also note that the Synod didn't explicitely condemn "homosexual acts", as the Catechism does strongly. Finally, the Pope will have to say something about this issue, the most important one for the Church in the USA and for many European ones. During 2016, an apostolic exhortation should come out in which Francis will give a final word of guidance on these matters of family, marriage and sexual morality.

We have before our eyes a rare situation. Here is a question that was closed to discussion, that the Pope then opened, but that Francis himself will have to close shortly. The Church, enlightened by its faith, has the duty ahead of thinking about a human reality that, having been cruelly buried for generations, has emerged in our time with a struggle to open a space within a culture that has opposed it, as a demand for love and justice that deserves to be known thoroughly and allowed to open our hearts, change our attitudes, and refine our criteria to make this demand our own demand.

I'm allowing myself a theological reflection here, because we have to dismantle old unjust mistreatment that has a religious aspect. Theology, concerning the issue of homosexuality, has to offer arguments to update in the most humanizing way possible, the revelation of God that happened in Christ, the paradigm of Christian humanity (Gaudium et Spes 22). What does theology say about homosexual people themselves, independent of their acts? What are they? Did God conceive of them that way?

It becomes necessary, therefore, to relate the Magisterial arguments on revelation which have been developed over two thousand years, to contemporary scientific arguments, since in both types of argument, there are reasons and convictions that, to the extent they're correct, the Church should consider as coming from God Himself. The Church, because of believing in the Creator of humankind, is obliged to make science and the ethical convictions of the culture in which it fulfills its mission, its own when it can be seen that these achievements are making human life happier. If God doesn't want anything but the triumph of humanity over itself, it would be absurd for the Church to oppose His will.

The fact is that science has given important fruits. Today we are told that homosexuality is not a perversion. No one chooses to be homosexual. One becomes one for biological reasons (genetic load) and/or biographical reasons (personal history). Homosexuality is a pre-moral reality. One is free as to the way of living out one's homosexuality, but not as to whether or not to be so. Another important scientific result is that, as the World Health Organization has maintained (1990), it's not a disease either, but a variant of human sexuality. For the time being, medical efforts to cure it have been disastrous.

Said in harsh terms: if homosexuals are innocent of their condition, this is a "sin" of God. Said in soft terms: God is responsible for human sexuality in all its versions, and if we have a hard time understanding how, we must strive again to enter into the mystery of God's love. Homosexuality is a work of God. It is not a human creation. Homosexual people are creatures of God, of His love, and therefore the only thing that could frustrate its existence is not loving their neighbor as God loves them. The homosexual person is a "gift" from God for themselves, but also a "gift" for others, since it is inherent to the gift to be given and not be selfishly withheld from others.

So we end up with two questions: What should a homosexual person do to love themselves as God loves them? This is a whole program of life. It is -- and equally importantly-- for heterosexual people too. Second question: How can a homosexual person be a gift for others? This is the more difficult point theologically. One homosexual friend asks me, "How could God give homosexuals the condition, but deny them its practice?". The question is difficult because the Church itself knows and teaches that the only thing that really ruins people is selfishness and indifference to the suffering of one's neighbor.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Vicenta Mamani: "Many Christian values were already present in indigenous culture"

by Luis Miguel Modino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
January 28, 2016

Woman, indigenous person, and theologian are categories that are apparently hard to combine. That is the case of Vicenta Mamani Bernabé, an Aymaran woman in the Methodist Church, trained in theology, who is currently rector of the Instituto Superior Ecuménico Indígena de Teología in La Paz (Bolivia).

In this interview, the Aymara theologian offers us a vision of the challenges she is facing in her daily work, the worldviews of the native Andean peoples and their relationship with Christianity, helping to understand their interrelationship and how they can mutually enrich one another.

What is the mission that the institute you direct is attempting to carry out?

It's a place where senior technical staff in Religious Studies and Theology are formed, so that men and women can serve in the churches, social organizations and in society itself.

At the Institute, a biblical pastoral program is underway that organizes groups of lay men and women in the local churches to train in areas of Bible, gender and other issues, as well as training of graduates in the issues of highlands and lowlands and the training of professionals who are working in institutions and NGOs. We offer public lectures, workshops and meetings on different topics. What cuts across the institution is the issue of gender, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, theology of creation, religious and theological decolonization, and ancestral spiritualities.

How do you combine being an indigenous woman and a theologian? Is it difficult to enter the world of theology as an indigenous woman?

The study of theology used to be reserved for males and now in the theological institutes and universities, we women are gradually going into this area of training, but it's not easy to study in a sexist, male-centered environment and, incidentally, studying theology isn't economically profitable. One studies it because of vocation, because of a commitment to serve in the Church, knowing that we women are the ones who mostly do the service work.

Not just studying how to fill places of responsibility. Is it difficult to fill the places that were always filled by men?

The institute where I work has already been in existence twenty years and in all that time, it has always been men who have led the institution. But now I'm in that position as rector and it's a great challenge to be able to bring this institution forward. And as a woman, I think I'm facing many internal problems but also with the confidence that it will succeed. I have support from my colleagues, the board, from many members and partners of the institution for it to go forward.

Between Latin American native peoples and Christianity and its traditions, what are the similarities and differences?

The Andean peoples, in this case the Aymara culture, we can say that we can't stop being Aymara to be Christian men and women. We have to remain Aymara men and women. Many values that we read in the Bible -- loving your neighbor, visiting the sick, being in solidarity with one's brothers and sisters -- all these values are present in the Aymara culture. Accompanying our brothers and sisters in their difficulties in the community, you have to laugh with those who laugh, you have to mourn with those who mourn, if a person is sick in the community, you have to go visit them, if someone is hungry you must also support them with food, if someone has no clothes, you have to detach yourself and give some to them, when there's community work to be done, you have to be like one man or one woman, if someone gets married, everyone must be there celebrating, and if someone dies, you must also participate to say goodbye to the person. So all these community human values are Gospel values to me. They complement each another. Gospel values strengthen the Aymara experience.

That relationship with the forces of nature which is so present in Andean traditions and spirituality, what does it mean for the Aymara?

For us this Pacha, the universe, nature, the Pacha Mama is our Great Home, it's the temple of God, and so the Pacha Mama is our mother who feeds us. Here we find the plants, water, animals. Everything in nature has life, has a spirit and, therefore, we live together as brothers and sisters of nature, if you like, as sons and daughters of nature. But we humans can't feel superior to nature, rather that we are a part of those beings that exist as subjects in nature. We relate to the goods of nature as subjects -- subject to subject -- we don't see the things of nature as objects.

Has Christianity managed to become inculturated in the Aymara tradition, in the tradition of the Andean peoples?

The Andean people have appropriated many Christian elements that support our life. The Bible, the Cross, prayers and other symbols and other values of the Gospel are already integrated into our lives. All that does not undermine our lives is appropriated.

How is the coexistence between the different Christian denominations and Aymara tradition?

Christian churches for the most part always preach a message that they are the bearers of truth and therefore they often divide the communities. In a community, there are the Methodists, the Assembly of God, the Catholic Church and other religious communities. Sometimes this doesn't convoke us to unity, but to division, and that's not right.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Don't we need prophets?

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
January 31, 2016

Luke 4:21-30

"A great prophet has emerged among us." So they cried out in the villages of Galilee, surprised by Jesus' words and actions. However, that's not what happens in Nazareth when he appears before his neighbors as one anointed as Prophet of the poor.

Jesus observes first their admiration and then their rejection. He isn't surprised. He reminds them of a known refrain: "I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place." Then when they drive him out of town and try to kill him, Jesus abandons them. The narrator says that "he passed through the midst of them and went away." Nazareth remained without the Prophet Jesus.

Jesus is and acts as a prophet. He isn't a temple priest or a teacher of the law. His life is framed in the prophetic tradition of Israel. Unlike the kings and priests, the prophet isn't appointed or anointed by anyone. His authority comes from God, busy encouraging and guiding His beloved people with His Spirit when the political and religious leaders don't. It is no coincidence that Christians confess God incarnate in a prophet.

The features of the prophet are unmistakable. In the midst of an unjust society where the powerful seek their abundance while silencing the suffering of those who weep, the prophet dares to interpret and to live reality from God's compassion for the last and least. His whole life becomes an "alternative presence" criticizing injustice and calling for conversion and change.

On the other hand, when religion itself accommodates an unjust order of things and its interests no longer correspond to God's, the prophet shakes indifference and self-deception, criticizes the illusion of eternity and absoluteness that threatens every religion and reminds everyone that God alone saves. His presence introduces new hope as it invites us to think about the future based on freedom and God's love.

A Church that ignores the prophetic dimension of Jesus and his followers runs the risk of remaining without prophets. The shortage of priests worries us a lot and we pray for vocations to priestly service. Why don't we pray for God to raise up prophets? Don't we need them? Don't we feel the need to stir up the prophetic spirit in our communities?

A Church without prophets, doesn't it run the risk of being deaf to God's calls to conversion and change? A Christianity without prophetic spirit, isn't it in danger of being controlled by order, tradition, and fear of the newness of God?

Interview with Juan José Tamayo: "Educational centers can't be places to catechize young people"

by Cristina Corte (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
January 28, 2016

"Spain isn't secular. Articles in the Consitution impeded it, so it's necessary to reform it," points out the professor of Theology and Religion in the Modern World.


Juan José Tamayo Acosta (Palencia, 1946) is professor of Theology and Religion in the Modern World at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid and from there he also directs the Ignacio Ellacuría Chair in Theology and Religious Science. He is also one of the most prestigious and recognized voices at the national and international level. Professor Tamayo advocates a reform of the Spanish Constitution to "put an end to the privileges of the Church." Professor Juan José Tamayo is the author of 72 publications in which he supports liberation theology.

Tamayo also works actively in the area of feminism, specifically in the critical study and analysis of sacred masculinity, based on patriarchy. He got a degree in theology from the Pontifical University of Comillas in 1971 and a doctorate in theology from Salamanca in 1976. He has been a professor at various institutions in Spain and America. He also has a diploma in Social Science from the Instituto León XIII in 1972 and a degree (1983) and doctorate (1990) in Philosophy and Letters from the Universidad Autónoma in Madrid.

Theologian Juan José Tamayo Acosta visited Llanes for the first time to participate in a discussion on non-denominationalism, the state and religion, in which he denounced Spain's lack of secularism and called for constitutional reform "put an end to the privileges of the Church."

Is Spain secular?

It's neither secular nor non-denominational. The Spanish Constitution has two articles that prevent it from being so -- 16.3 and 27 -- and therefore it's necessary to reform it. The first puts the [Catholic] Church in a seat of honor and establishes second tier religions. The second allows for the incorporation of religion in the schools not as information but as an element in ethics. In addition, after the Parliament approved the Constitution in full, agreements with the Holy See were disclosed, which are an update of the Concordat and provide lots of fiscal, educational, cultural, military and legal privileges to the Church. In Spain there has been a political transition, with many limitations, but not a religious one and there are still residues of national Catholicism.

Should religion be taught in educational centers?

It doesn't need to disappear, but the centers can't be places to catechize and convert young people to one religion. It should be studied as a history of religions that is secular, scientific, critical. A cleric, an imam, a rabbi or a minister doesn't have to teach it by virtue of being such, but a specialized person regardless of their connection with any religion. Nor should religious authorities intervene in the development of the program, evaluation criteria, and the selection of teachers, as is happening now, because it's an undemocratic interference.

Is there a difference between a secular and a non-denominational state?

There is a 2001 Constitutional Court ruling which says it is indistinct. Some conservatives think that secularism is a way of organizing society that persecutes religion and defends atheism, but it's not. Secularism is an organizational model of state in which the cohesion criterion of those who are part of it, is the principle of citizenship, and the focus is human rights.

Are secular states more democratic?

Yes, because the secular state rules for everyone from legal criteria based on the Constitution and ethics based on human rights. A confessional state can't be democratic because it treats the believers of the religion it professes preferentially over the rest of the citizens.

Are the governments in Spain at the service of the Church?

All the governments of the democracy have been hostages of the Catholic Church. The Centrist ones, which bore the brunt of the drafting of the Constitution, but also the Socialists, who in their fourteen years in office didn't take one step forward in the separation of church and state and maintained the agreements and privileges with the Holy See that could have been denounced. It's reflected when they're sworn into office with the Bible and crucifix next to the Constitution.

What about the emerging parties?

They are bound by their own program, in which they advocate separation of religion and state and removal of privileges, to establish disengagement with the Vatican.

Are religions necessary nowadays?

I dare not say they're necessary. The religious dimension isn't inscribed in human nature; it's a personal option that you choose, live out and transmit in the social and community environment, and that can lead you to happiness, although throughout history it has made human beings more unhappy because of the image of God that has been presented, the dogma and repressive morality.

What role should religion play in these times?

Religion's place is in the excluded areas, the world of marginalization and poverty, of oppression. It must exercise a critical role in a world of inequality between the poor and the rich.

You were critical of John Paul II and Ratzinger. Are you in a honeymoon period with Pope Francis?

I'm in a spirit of critical dialogue, but it's true that he's working in the right direction. To come to fruition, he has to democratize the Church, incorporating women and transforming the Vatican Curia.

Hasn't the attitude of the papacy towards women changed with Francis?

No, he follows the same exclusionary line as his predecessors, which is reflected in the refusal to recognize women priests, the yielding of responsibility and access to the sacred. Francis has to be clear that without feminism, any attempt to reform the Church will end in failure.