Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jeremiah and the Messy World of Compromise

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of August 13-14, 2016.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it’s my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings.

In today’s gospel reading from Luke we hear Jesus’ passionate, even frustrated, side when he declares to his companions “I have come to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish it were already blazing.” He then goes on to say that “From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.”

I have mixed feelings about this passage. On the one hand, my younger self would have appreciated the strident tone and the anger imbued in this reading. Oh how I loved to rage against the machine, to rail against the injustice. Some 30 plus years ago I remember coming home from college, Karl Marx and Andre Gunder Frank in hand, and deliberately picking a dinner time fight with my parents. They, in their cozy middle class home, in their cozy middle class suburb, and their cozy middle class jobs, were capitalists I declared. They were a part of the problem. Their roles in US corporate society, their wasteful suburban consumption habits, their bourgeois thinking, their tacit acceptance of US imperialism, were anathema to me, a young, budding socialist. I roared, my father roared back about my disrespectful attitude, and my mother tried to keep the peace. (By the way, if you’re sensing self-righteous hypocrisy here, that would be accurate as my parents were bankrolling my college education]).

My fervor and strident anti-imperialism would stay with me well into the Peace Corps. I was decidedly anti big development and pro self-reliance. My sacred texts on this subject were Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. In Mali where I was stationed, we were cautioned about the “cadeau mentality.” Cadeau meant gift or present in French, and the cadeau mentality referred to a handout culture that could develop in places with year upon year of foreign assistance. I was determined to avoid fostering such a handout culture, to make sure that my actions as a development worker did not breed dependency, or a taste for Western thinking and consumption habits. I was so zealous in my pursuit of this goal that, as a board member of a small fund for volunteer projects, I voted against all proposals providing funds for items I thought the community could cover. Furthermore, in my everyday life, I refused to give money to strangers who routinely asked me for help – believing that my small act of charity might lead to a life of dependency. In sum, in my zealous pursuit of ideological purity I had become a complete jerk. I was, in retrospect, embarrassingly sanctimonious and astoundingly unaware of my own privilege. Worse yet, in my reach for ideological purity, in my fervor to combat imperialism and dependency, I had strayed into the territory of right wing narratives regarding welfare dependency.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for enthusiasm, passion, frustration and even anger in social change movements, I see it every day amongst my college students and their fervor for causes like Black Lives Matter, divestment of college endowments from the fossil fuel industry, or justice in Palestine. It is this energy, passion and sense of injustice that fueled our former pastor, Mike Tegeder, to fight the archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and it likely propels many in the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and the Council of the Baptized to battle the hierarchy for a more open church and desperately needed reforms. I continue to see it in myself as my passion, frustration and even anger sometimes propel me to do some of my best writing late into the night.

But these passionate quests for justice and truth can also morph into something darker and more dangerous. The stories of ideological movements gone wrong are too numerous to tell: the Spanish inquisition, the ‘reign of terror’ in the midst the French Revolution, the supporters of Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide necklacing opposition activists, or Islamic fundamentalists destroying ancient religious texts which do not meet their strict standards of ideological purity or killing innocent civilians in the name of advancing a religious state. This is why I have mixed feelings about today’s gospel reading, because I know from my own life, and from my knowledge of others’, that we need that energy to persevere and fight the good fight, but sometimes we also go off the rails in our certainty and passion.

I used to think of Jeremiah, the protagonist in our first reading today, as a purist and an ideologue, someone who suffered because of his unflinching and uncompromising commitment to his beliefs. In today’s reading we learn that Jeremiah has been cast into a muddy cistern or pit, and a likely long, slow, and painful death, for refusing to stop talking in a way that is “demoralizing the soldiers and the rest of the people left in the city.” Jeremiah is the kind of person we seem to increasingly celebrate in some American political circles where compromise is a dirty word. He is, for some Modern day Christians who are persecuted for their faith, looked to as an inspiration because he did not relinquish his beliefs and persevered.

It is not that the standard presentation of Jeremiah is wrong, but the reality is more nuanced. In this instance, the back story is important. Zedekiah, the King of Judea has been persuaded by the Palestinian nobility to revolt against his master, the King of Babylonia. The King of Babylonia responds by laying siege to Jerusalem. From the start, Jeremiah has advised against this move because he sees it as a suicidal rebellion and continues throughout the siege to urge surrender. Not surprisingly, the Palestinian nobility see Jeremiah as a traitor and hence successfully convince Zedekiah to throw him into a muddy cistern to die. The illuminating detail for me is that Jeremiah is a pragmatic realist in this instance, not an idealist. He is against the rebellion because the Babylonians will crush them and it is a suicidal mission for his people.

While we celebrate the tenacity and idealism of our heroes, we sometimes ignore the compromises they have made. There is a scene in the 2014 movie Selma on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that highlights such a compromise. In this scene, Dr. King is leading a second of three marches for voting rights from Selma, Alabama. As the marchers cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the protesters meet state police officers. Instead of confronting them, the marchers kneel, pray, and retreat. That day would become known as Turnaround Tuesday and King was deeply criticized by his supporters for this compromise. King, it turns out, had agreed in last-minute negotiations with President Lyndon Johnson to retreat. But I also think he understood that the potential loss of human life in this instance was too great. He was patient and they would return another day to march

Similarly, in the 2012 George Lucas film entitled Lincoln, we learn about the compromises President Abraham Lincoln made in the closing days of the Civil War to pass the 13th amendment banning slavery before the readmission of the southern States. This was critical because Lincoln knew the wartime measure known as the Emancipation Proclamation could easily be undone if it was not reflected in the text of the Constitution. In order to pass the amendment, Lincoln embarked on a vote-gathering effort that stopped just short of bribery. When moral appeals failed, patronage positions were offered to garner the requisite votes in Congress. In contrast to previous narrations of a heroically steadfast Lincoln, this film revealed the nitty gritty politics involved in legal reform and improving the human condition.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that the ends justify the means. This, after all, is the trap that has sometimes led pure idealism down the dark path, to terrible situations like the McCarthy era witch hunts use of torture by the US military after 9/11. So how do we know when to step back and compromise or when to stick to our ideals?

I think the answer lies in our recognition and respect for human dignity and in the notion that God dwells in all of us. While we may cling to certain ideals in our faith or other moral codes, do we sometimes come to hold these principles in such high regard that we are blinded to the dignity of our fellow human beings? As I illustrated at the start of this reflection, I certainly have been guilty of this. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis argues that the role of the church is “less to judge than to accompany and discern God’s grace with people in their complex and complicated lives.”

Today’s gospel reading shows us one facet of Jesus, a passionate side which wishes to set the world on fire. We need that passion and energy as a spark for social change. We ought to be angry when a young black man is pulled over and needlessly shot while complying with an officer’s orders. But we also need to harness that energy, to respect the basic dignity in all of us, and to recognize that the betterment of the human condition sometimes involves compromise because the real world is messy and complicated. Another facet of Jesus is that he constantly coached his disciples to love their enemies. In his hour of deepest humiliation, Jesus tells Simon Peter not to strike back at the servant of the high priest. While Jesus could have set the world ablaze, he did not because he loved humanity too much. Making heaven on earth is a slow and messy process. We are a part of that process and we are moving in the right direction, it’s not always linear, and we sometimes go backward, but that’s okay. Yes, Jeremiah was prophetic bullfrog, but he also loved the world.

The author may be contacted at moseley@macalester.edu or may be found on twitter at https://twitter.com/WilliamGMoseley

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant"

By Rubén Rosario

Note: This commentary was first published July 3, 2016 by the Pioneer Press.

I invited him to meet face-to-face over coffee at some point. He preferred green tea. Then, in a recent chat over the phone, Mike Tegeder apologized.

“I am feeling really tired right now,” he told me. “Let’s make it another time.” We agreed on a raincheck.

On June 24, several days after the call, the 67-year-old Minneapolis native and longtime Catholic priest and church pastor learned from his oncologist that further chemotherapy and immunotherapy infusion treatments to curb his aggressive cancer would be fruitless. Tegeder decided then to discontinue treatment and live his final days in hospice care at the home of a relative.

The name Tegeder may be familiar to the state’s 1.2 million Catholics, as well as others. He was the priest — the only priest — who publicly, like me, called for Archbishop John Nienstedt’s resignation, well before it happened, for his mishandling of the clergy sexual-abuse scandal and Nienstedt’s expensive but unsuccessful lobbying effort to support a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex civil marriages.

Tegeder said openly what a handful of priests and others in the church who called me in recent years also felt but who implored me not to identify them for fear of retribution.

“The greatest threats to marriage are the economy, joblessness, alcoholism, drug abuse — there are a lot of threats to marriage, but it has very little to do with homosexuals having a committed relationship,” Tegeder told City Pages five years ago. “I know committed same-sex people who are doing God’s work.”

Progressive and reform-minded members in the one, holy and apostolic church praised Tegeder’s stance on gay rights and allowing women to be ordained as priests. Traditionalists derided him as a blasphemous heretic who should be censored, silenced, punished, excommunicated or defrocked.

But the outspokenness and the controversy he generated did not fully capture this man of God. It unfairly overshadowed his compassionate, pastoral nature, according to those who know him well. He’s been labeled by the news media and others as a hippie priest, maverick priest, rebel priest, gadfly priest. The tags, people who know him say, are unfair and belittle his convictions and call to the priesthood 38 years ago.

Tegeder, pastor of both St. Frances Cabrini and the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis, preferred to be called, if anything, “authentic.” Love one another was his general mission statement.

“If I had to sum it up, I would tell you what I have told many people, even before he was sick,” said Mary Lou Sweet, a friend and longtime administrator at Cabrini. “Oftentimes, when Mike is around, I would feel that this is what it must have been like to be in the presence of Jesus.

“He was as close as you can get to someone not having an ego,” Sweet added. “He was constant kindness. He always looked for the positive side of people. My favorite thing was that he smiled with his eyes. But if he recognized an injustice or a wrongdoing, he had no problem bringing them to light.”

“Over and over (in preaching, in his actions, prayers, etc.) he has communicated a loving, compassionate, merciful God . . . who would have us act the same way,” Chris Kosowski, Cabrini’s liturgist, noted in an email.

Sweet said that Tegeder spent more time at the predominantly American Indian Kateri parish, where he comforted and provided spiritual counseling to perhaps the most traumatized and disenfranchised group of parishioners in the state. He presided over numerous funerals of many young people whose lives were snuffed by violence, suicide and drug overdoses.

“Mike is a practical person,” said Larry Martin, a longtime Kateri church staffer and member. “He loves to drive a bus as well as the hearse that our community uses to take people back to reservations for burial,” said Martin, who is a tribal member of the Lac Court Oreilles Ojibwe reservation in northern Wisconsin. “He is also proud of his plumbing skills — last year I went with him on a trip to Bluefields, Nicaragua, where he really enjoyed fixing plumbing problems at a small orphanage.”

No question, Tegeder ruffled church hierarchical feathers, both here and at the Vatican. He rarely wore the collar. He grew his silver hair to shoulder length. He brazenly, but respectfully, asked Nienstedt to resign to his face at a meeting of South Minneapolis parish priests two years ago.

Tegeder’s CaringBridge page has been viewed thousands of times and flooded with hundreds of well-wishers in recent days.

A poignant entry, among many, is the account of a woman who reached out to Tegeder on behalf of a non-churchgoing Native American family whose matriarch passed away suddenly.

“You welcomed these young folks who were so devastated by the death of their mom and gave them a space to have the wake, the meal, to drum and to sing, and to send their mom to Ishpeming,” the woman wrote. “Again, I want to thank you for your gracious welcome and care. Thank you for the love and care you have shared so lovingly with so many through the years of your ministry.”

I wrap this up with one of Tegeder’s last words to his congregations after his cancer diagnosis this year:

“Over the years, during the time that needed us to raise our voices of concerns over the direction of our beloved Archdiocese, I would get letters, emails, phone calls and public rebukes telling me to join the Lutherans or Episcopalians. I respect these traditions but I am a Catholic with the full understanding of that word which seeks inclusivity while appreciating diversity.

“. . . Let us never forget,” he added, “that we gather around the Risen One in spirit who reaches out to all in love.”

Amen. Father Mike, the green tea’s my treat after my ticket gets punched, and I am fortunate to wind up where you are going in the afterlife.

Rubén Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or rrosario@pioneerpress.com. Follow him at twitter.com/nycrican.


See also the previous PCV posts:
One Courageous Parish Priest
Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"
Local Catholic Priest Speaks Out on the MN Bishops' Anti-Gay DVD Controversy
Even Tougher Battle Ahead for Maverick Priest the Rev. Mike Tegeder

For the writings of Mike Tegeder at the PCV, see:
"Trust Your Shepherds"
What is the Lesson?
Are You Serious?
The Archdiocese and Fathers Conlin and Schüller
Quote of the Day – November 8, 2012
Quote of the Day – December 18, 2011
"I Like McDonald's, Too; But Dioceses Are Not Franchises"
Archdiocesan Pension Pitfalls

Sunday, April 24, 2016

What Is With the U.S. Bishops and Religious Liberty?

By Paula Ruddy

Are the bishops worried about religious liberty or about women using contraceptives? Being honest about this is tremendously important. The bishops’ moral authority is at stake as well as Catholic respect as citizens for the U.S. legal system. A nation’s legal system is only as strong as the people’s respect for it. We cannot afford the U.S. bishops’ tearing down the rule of law.

The case of Catholic non-profits before the Supreme Court illustrates the problem. Catholic bishops teach that the use of contraceptives is morally wrong. The U.S government leaves the decision about personal morality to individuals. It wants insurance companies who provide health care insurance through employers to make it free and easy to get contraceptives for those women employees who want them because reproduction is a factor in women’s health care.

Churches are exempt and don’t have to cover contraception for their employees. But Catholic non-profits – hospitals, social welfare agencies, and nursing homes – employ lots of women, Catholic and not Catholic, and they want to be exempt from offering coverage too. The government offered an accommodation. Their employees would still get coverage but the religious non-profits would not have to pay, arrange for, or implement. All they would have to do is notify the government or the insurer of opt-out.

The U.S. bishops have opposed the government all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court has to decide whether the free exercise of religion of the Catholics who run the non-profits is “substantially burdened” by the government’s requirement to notify them in accepting the accommodation.

Although the insurance coverage doesn’t require any woman to use contraceptives, it does make it free and easy for them to use them if they want. I think that is the point of the U.S. bishops’ opposition. They do not want to make it free and easy for women, Catholic or not, to use contraceptives. So it isn’t about the government forcing Catholics to do something against their religion, it is about preventing women from the free and easy use of contraceptives.

If the bishops valued liberty, they would honor the free consciences of women on the issue of their family planning. Instead they are interested in coercive prevention and getting the U.S. government to do the job. Positioning themselves as victims of religious intolerance is not honest. The dishonesty of it it destroys the moral authority of the bishops in the eyes of Catholics and all our fellow citizens. The Catholic bishops should pull the plug on the religious liberty campaign immediately.

But why do the bishops care so much about contraceptives that they are willing to do so much harm to prevent women from using them? I think they are dismayed by the sexual freedoms the U.S. government has recognized in the last 50 years and they are worried about the Catholic family. From the use of contraception in the 1960’s to gay marriage in 2015, one after another laws controlling sexual practices, reproduction, and marriage have been overturned in the U.S. The bishops may believe that people’s attitudes toward family is affected by the use of contraceptives. They may believe it is harder for Catholic families to raise their children within the boundaries of Catholic sexual morality in the sexually permissive contemporary culture.

If the Catholic family is the bishops’ concern, instead of tearing down respect for the U.S. legal system, they should ask three hard questions:

• How can we strengthen the Catholic family to internalize moral standards so they do not need the coercion of law? Legality is not a sufficient standard for morality.

• How shall we re-think our moral teaching on sexual practice so that it makes sense to Catholic families to live by? This is not accommodation to secularism. It is about being responsible.

• How do we partner with our fellow citizens, religious and secular, to build a mainstream culture of responsibility and healthy family living? This would require Catholic bishops to learn from the rest of society how to relate productively with people who think differently from them.

There is no time to lose in stopping the religious liberty campaign and asking the right questions.


Related Off-site Link:
Nondiscrimination Laws Merit Church Support – Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler (National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2016).

See also the previous PCV posts:
What is This Furor About Religious Liberty?
Fortnight of Freedom: Hypocrisy of the U.S. Bishops
Your Fist – My Nose
Quote of the Day – June 4, 2012

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Historic Vatican Peace Conference

By John Dear

Note: This article was first published April 15, 2016 by HuffPost Religion.

This week, an historic gathering of 80 leading Catholic peace leaders from 20 different nations met at the Vatican to call for an end to the so-called just war theory and for a recommitment to the nonviolence of Jesus.

There has literally never been a gathering like this before in the history of the Vatican. It was sponsored by the Pontifical Office of Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International, the official global Catholic peace movement. Cardinal Turkson, head of the Pontifical Office and the leader behind Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, opened the conference by reading a long letter from Pope Francis to the participants. Cardinal Turkson participated in the conference, and approved the closing statement, which was then presented to the Pope.

For the first time, the Catholic Church is discussing abandoning the just war theory and officially returning to Jesus’ way of nonviolence to resolve conflict. The just war theory has been advocated for over 1700 years to justified many wars and killings. Every one of us who participated in the conference left Rome feeling hopeful that Pope Francis will help lead the Catholic church and the world to a new breakthrough toward peace and nonviolence.

Here below is the official statement from the conference, submitted to Pope Francis on April 13, 2016.

________________________________


An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Re-Commit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence

As Christians committed to a more just and peaceful world we are called to take a clear stand for creative and active nonviolence and against all forms of violence. With this conviction, and in recognition of the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, people from many countries gathered at the Nonviolence and Just Peace Conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and Pax Christi International on April 11-13, 2016 in Rome.

Our assembly, people of God from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and Oceania included lay people, theologians, members of religious congregations, priests, and bishops. Many of us live in communities experiencing violence and oppression. All of us are practitioners of justice and peace. We are grateful for the message to our conference from Pope Francis: “your thoughts on revitalizing the tools of nonviolence, and of active nonviolence in particular, will be a needed and positive contribution.”


Looking at our world today

We live in a time of tremendous suffering, widespread trauma and fear linked to militarization, economic injustice, climate change, and a myriad of other specific forms of violence. In this context of normalized and systemic violence, those of us who stand in the Christian tradition are called to recognize the centrality of active nonviolence to the vision and message of Jesus; to the life and practice of the Catholic Church; and to our long-term vocation of healing and reconciling both people and the planet.

We rejoice in the rich concrete experiences of people engaged in work for peace around the world, many of whose stories we heard during this conference. Participants shared their experiences of courageous negotiations with armed actors in Uganda and Colombia; working to protect the Article 9, the peace clause in the Japanese Constitution; accompaniment in Palestine; and countrywide peace education in the Philippines. They illuminate the creativity and power of nonviolent practices in many different situations of potential or actual violent conflict. Recent academic research, in fact, has confirmed that nonviolent resistance strategies are twice as effective as violent ones.

The time has come for our Church to be a living witness and to invest far greater human and financial resources in promoting a spirituality and practice of active nonviolence and in forming and training our Catholic communities in effective nonviolent practices. In all of this, Jesus is our inspiration and model.


Jesus and nonviolence

In his own times, rife with structural violence, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. Jesus called his disciples to love their enemies (Matthew 5: 44), which includes respecting the image of God in all persons; to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil (Matthew 5: 39); to become peacemakers; to forgive and repent; and to be abundantly merciful (Matthew 5-7). Jesus embodied nonviolence by actively resisting systemic dehumanization, as when he defied the Sabbath laws to heal the man with the withered hand (Mark 3: 1-6); when he confronted the powerful at the Temple and purified it (John 2: 13-22); when he peacefully but determinedly challenged the men accusing a woman of adultery (John 8: 1-11); when on the night before he died he asked Peter to put down his sword (Matthew 26: 52).
Neither passive nor weak, Jesus’ nonviolence was the power of love in action. In vision and deed, he is the revelation and embodiment of the Nonviolent God, a truth especially illuminated in the Cross and Resurrection. He calls us to develop the virtue of nonviolent peacemaking.

Clearly, the Word of God, the witness of Jesus, should never be used to justify violence, injustice or war. We confess that the people of God have betrayed this central message of the Gospel many times, participating in wars, persecution, oppression, exploitation, and discrimination.

We believe that there is no “just war.” Too often the “just war theory” has been used to endorse rather than prevent or limit war. Suggesting that a “just war” is possible also undermines the moral imperative to develop tools and capacities for nonviolent transformation of conflict.

We need a new framework that is consistent with Gospel nonviolence. A different path is clearly unfolding in recent Catholic social teaching. Pope John XXIII wrote that war is not a suitable way to restore rights; Pope Paul VI linked peace and development, and told the UN “no more war”; Pope John Paul II said that “war belongs to the tragic past, to history”; Pope Benedict XVI said that “loving the enemy is the nucleus of the Christian revolution”; and Pope Francis said “the true strength of the Christian is the power of truth and love, which leads to the renunciation of all violence. Faith and violence are incompatible.” He has also urged the “abolition of war.”

We propose that the Catholic Church develop and consider shifting to a Just Peace approach based on Gospel nonviolence. A Just Peace approach offers a vision and an ethic to build peace as well as to prevent, defuse, and to heal the damage of violent conflict. This ethic includes a commitment to human dignity and thriving relationships, with specific criteria, virtues, and practices to guide our actions. We recognize that peace requires justice and justice requires peacemaking.


Living Gospel Nonviolence and Just Peace

In that spirit we commit ourselves to furthering Catholic understanding and practice of active nonviolence on the road to just peace. As would-be disciples of Jesus, challenged and inspired by stories of hope and courage in these days, we call on the Church we love to:

• continue developing Catholic social teaching on nonviolence. In particular, we call on Pope Francis to share with the world an encyclical on nonviolence and Just Peace;

• integrate Gospel nonviolence explicitly into the life, including the sacramental life, and work of the Church through dioceses, parishes, agencies, schools, universities, seminaries, religious orders, voluntary associations, and others;

• promote nonviolent practices and strategies (e.g., nonviolent resistance, restorative justice, trauma healing, unarmed civilian protection, conflict transformation, and peacebuilding strategies);

• initiate a global conversation on nonviolence within the Church, with people of other faiths, and with the larger world to respond to the monumental crises of our time with the vision and strategies of nonviolence and Just Peace;

• no longer use or teach “just war theory”; continue advocating for the abolition of war and nuclear weapons;

• lift up the prophetic voice of the church to challenge unjust world powers and to support and defend those nonviolent activists whose work for peace and justice put their lives at risk.

In every age, the Holy Spirit graces the Church with the wisdom to respond to the challenges of its time. In response to what is a global epidemic of violence, which Pope Francis has labeled a “world war in installments,” we are being called to invoke, pray over, teach and take decisive action. With our communities and organizations, we look forward to continue collaborating with the Holy See and the global Church to advance Gospel nonviolence.

John Dear is an internationally known voice for peace and nonviolence. A priest, peacemaker, organizer, lecturer, and retreat leader, he is the author/editor of 30 books, including his autobiography, “A Persistent Peace.” In 2008, John was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and in 2015 by Sen. Barbara Mikulski. He has two masters degrees in theology from the Graduate Theological Union in California. John's website is www.fatherjohndear.org


Related Off-site Link:
Landmark Vatican Conference Rejects Just War Theory, Asks for Encyclical on Nonviolence – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, April 14, 2016).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pope Francis’ "The Joy of Love" Falls Short

By Gina Messina-Dysert

Note: This commentary was first published April 12, 2016 by Feminism and Religion.


It seems that Pope Francis has finally read Margaret Farley’s Just Love; and while he is taking steps in a positive direction, he still needs to spend time processing Farley’s words. With his new statement, Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love"), Francis has called for us to begin to change our attitudes towards “the other” but is still unwilling to change the man made rules of the Vatican. He refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships are in fact just and maintains the idea of complementarity rejecting women’s roles and capabilities outside of the home.

The document was developed based on information gathered from the “Synod of the Family” and addresses married life, family life, singleness, the education of children and procreation. What is significant about Amoris Laetitia is the acknowledgement that “the church has proposed a far too abstract and artificial theological idea of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families.”

In Section 305, the document discusses “irregular family situations” that conflict with Catholic teaching such as divorce, civil marriage or remarriage. These “irregular family situations” exclude Catholics from receiving communion and is an incredible source of pain – a branding with a scarlet letter.

Parish priests are offered a solution in to this section in Footnote #351. It states, “the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.” With this, the priest may grant communion at his discretion in an effort to help those sinners “grow in the faith and life of the church.”

As a child of divorce – a very painful event because of the Church’s stance – I appreciate that Pope Francis is taking a more pastoral approach in recognizing the many ways family is possible. However, it is critical that the Vatican move away from language such as “tolerance” for the “weak” and instead focus on a message that encompasses love and compassion without judgement.

While many are praising Amoris Laetitia, and it may be a baby step in the right direction, it has continued the idea that those who make choices to be in healthy relationships or leave those that are not are sinners, not fully human. Likewise, it continues a highly negative tone for the LGBTQ community and does not acknowledge women’s value outside of marriage.

Pope Francis is working hard to walk the line between conservative and liberal Catholics. Perhaps instead of trying to please everyone, he should find courage to continue to consider his own blindspots, spend more time with Farley’s words, and recognize that the true message of the Gospels is not about tolerance, but about liberation for every person. “Jesus was all about opening the door to possibility — for everyone — in the name of good news — for everyone.”

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter@FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website GinaMessinaDysert.com.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Remembering Terry Dosh, 1930-2016


It is with great sadness that the PCV editorial team shares news of the death of local theologian and church historian Terry Dosh.

Terry died earlier today, Thursday, April 7, 2016, after a long struggle with Parkinson's Disease.

A married priest and a well-respected church historian and theologian, Terry was a dedicated advocate for church reform for close to half-a-century.

Inspired by the vision of church launched by Vatican II, Terry began research on mandatory celibacy in 1962.

This led him to significant involvement over the next four decades with numerous church reform organizations, including CORPUS, the International Federation of Married Priests, Call to Action Minnesota, and various other Catholic organizations for renewal. He also helped found the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) in 1980, serving on its board for 24 years.

From 1975 until just a few years ago, Terry edited and published four church reform newsletters, the last being Bread Rising. He also taught church history, scripture, and justice and peace topics extensively in parishes and other forums throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Terry will be greatly missed by all who knew him, and our thoughts are especially with his wife Millie and their family.

Rest in Peace, Terry . . . And thank you for your scholarly and prophetic voice, one that has inspired countless people within the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis and beyond.


_____________________________


NOTE: In 2010, Terry was a recipient of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's inaugural Adsum Award, presented at the Synod of the Baptized, "Claiming Our Place at the Table." For commentary and images, click here.

Also, to read Terry's April 2008 review of Karl Rahner's three-epoch theory of Christian history, click here.

In closing, here is Peter Shea's 1999 interview with Terry Dosh.





Related Off-site Links:
Terry Dosh, Married Priest Activist, Dies at Age 85National Catholic Reporter (April 11. 2016).
Terry Dosh, Who Led Movement for Married Priests, Dies at 85 – Maura Lerner (Star Tribune, April 11. 2016).
Voice Nearly Gone, His Life Still Speaks – Todd Svanoe (Everyday Heroes, 2012).

Images 1 and 3: Michael Bayly (2010).
Image 2: Courtesy of the Dosh family.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Twice Removed: Why Our Sacraments Often Don't Connect with Real Life



By Joseph Martos

Note: This commentary was first published February 20, 2016 by the National Catholic Reporter.

In the first two centuries of Christianity, theology was based in experience. Words that were later taken to refer to things that are outside the realm of experience were originally attempts to talk about things that the followers of Jesus were experiencing.

For example, when Paul wrote about justification by faith, he was not talking about getting right with God by believing in Christ, but getting your life straightened out by trusting that what Jesus taught is true. When the Book of Acts talks about being saved through baptism, it does not mean washing away sin by going through a ritual, but being rescued from selfishness by being immersed in a caring community.

Scholars who study other early documents like "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" (often called the Didache for short, from the Greek word for teaching) are finding that these writings were also attempts to spell out what the followers of Jesus were experiencing in their lives. But in the third century, things began to change.

Over time, the experience behind the early writings was forgotten. The writings were recognized as precious, called sacred Scriptures. Even the Didache appeared in some early lists of sacred Scriptures.

Christian intellectuals in the third century, sometimes called apologists, tried to explain their faith to people in the wider pagan world who suspected that the followers of Jesus were members of a dangerous cult. One apologist, Justin, compared the Christian community meal to a temple sacrifice, where pagans shared food in the presence of their god, to show that Christians were religious even though they did not worship in temples.

But other apologists began to talk about their faith as a set of beliefs rather than as a way of living. The words were becoming disconnected from the experiences.

In the fourth century, Constantine wanted to unify the Roman Empire with a single religion, so he legalized and promoted Christianity. When Christians began to travel freely throughout the empire, they discovered that people in different regions had different theologies. Instead of uniting Constantine's empire, Christians argued and divided it even further.

Constantine ordered all the bishops to his villa in Nicaea, and forced them to stay until they produced a document they could all agree on. They came up with the Nicene Creed, a statement of belief that said nothing about living like Jesus, but only about God and the church. The first removal of theology from the experience of Christian living was complete.


The Middle Ages

The attempt of the emperors to preserve the empire failed, and in the fifth century, the western half fell to barbarian invaders from the north. The so-called Dark Ages lasted until the 10th century. Theological thinking came to a halt while people struggled to survive.

Church life, on the contrary, evolved and flourished. The elaborate eucharistic liturgy got pared down to a Mass that could be said by missionaries who carried the faith to the tribes that were settling on the continent, and it was called a sacrifice even though no one remembered why.

Baptism became a short rite performed on babies in a church or adult converts in a river. Confirmation could be given by a bishop on horseback to children who were held up for him to touch. Private confession was introduced by monks for people who needed assurance of God's forgiveness.

Weddings became church ceremonies to be a public record of marriages. Ordination became a series of rites for apprentices who were learning how to be clerics as they ascended through a series of holy orders. Anointing of the sick began as a ministry to people who were ill, but in the absence of modern medicine, it became a last anointing called extreme unction.

By the 11th century, the chaos had subsided. The weather got warmer, farming flourished, commerce expanded, towns grew into cities, cathedrals were built, and schools were founded. Monks turned their attention from copying ancient manuscripts to studying them. Philosophy and theology were reborn.

Among other things, the schoolmen turned their attention to religious rituals, especially to sacraments. How did bread and wine turn into the body and blood of Christ? Why could baptism and confirmation be received only once? How did the sacraments of penance and extreme unction work? What were the different powers of priests and bishops? Why was the bond of marriage indissoluble?

The schoolmen did not realize, however, that much of their theological language was already somewhat removed from life. They thought that salvation meant going to heaven, that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were not experienced, that sins were remitted even if they were committed again, that the bond of marriage was indissoluble, that priestly powers were unrelated to priestly ministry, and that extreme unction could be received by someone who was unconscious.

They saw nothing amiss in a Mass that was performed by a priest using words that the people could not hear, much less understand, and who paid attention only when a bell was rung.

In many ways, sacramental ministry devolved into sacramental magic in the late Middle Ages, but the church's leadership rejected repeated calls for reform until the 16th century, by which time half of Europe had converted to Protestantism.

The Council of Trent reformed the sacramental system, eliminating the most superstitious practices, insisting that bishops be true shepherds of their flocks and that priests be trained in seminaries. From the 16th to the mid-20th centuries, Catholic sacramental practice and Catholic sacramental theology mirrored one another.

The baptismal and priestly characters explained why Catholics never left the church and why priests never left the ministry. The Eucharist was elevated at Mass and ensconced in a monstrance for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and was received only rarely, usually after a sincere confession of sins to a priest.

The indissoluble bond of marriage explained why Catholics never divorced. Confirmation and extreme unction did not have visible effects, but Catholics trusted that the former was good to receive in adolescence and the latter was good to receive before dying.

The Catholic church remained medieval in form and thought well into the 20th century.


Vatican II and after

At the Second Vatican Council, the world's Catholic bishops called for an updating of the church's sacramental practices. Historians and liturgists retrieved earlier forms of the Mass and other rites that had gotten lost during the Dark Ages — things like praying in the language of the people, receiving Communion in the forms of both bread and wine, rethinking the relation between sin and confession, and returning anointing to the context of ministry to the sick.

Unexpectedly, the unity of practice and theology began to dissolve. People stopped going to confession regularly. Priests began leaving the priesthood and the number of seminarians dwindled. Married Catholics started divorcing in greater numbers and even remarrying without waiting for an annulment.

The primary effect of confirmation seemed to be dropping out of church. Even baptism was no guarantee that people would remain Catholics or even Christians, as those who left the church sometimes became agnostics or atheists, Jews or Muslims.

Alarmed by this apparent defection, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI insisted on strict adherence to ecclesiastical rules, affirming traditional doctrines, stifling dissent, and denying any further developments in sacramental practice such as allowing deacons to anoint the sick or allowing priests to marry.

But the traditional doctrines no longer match Catholics' contemporary experience of church membership, marriage and ministry, not to mention their sense of sin and their experience of illness. Even Catholic worship feels different from the way it did in the days of the Latin Mass and Gregorian chant, and the previously strong sense of Christ's presence in the Eucharist is hard to recapture.

As happened in the third century, there is a growing gap between theology and experience, only this time the theology is twice removed from life. Official teachings about the Mass and sacraments are not only disconnected from people's everyday lives, but they are also often disconnected from people's experience of worship. For many people, the liturgy is not the main source of their spiritual nourishment, nor the high point of their week.

Around the time of Vatican II, Catholic thinkers like Edward Schillebeeckx, Karl Rahner, Bernard Cooke and Louis-Marie Chauvet tried to reinterpret the sacraments in more contemporary ways. Fifty years later, however, their work is not given much attention because it suffered from a fatal flaw.

Instead of reflecting on the experience of ritual worship, they reflected on the church's sacramental doctrines and tried to translate them into thought categories derived from existentialism and phenomenology, the psychology and sociology of religion, and even postmodern philosophy.

By being tied to medieval doctrines, however, these theologians had to explain why baptism is permanent, how confirmation gives spiritual strength, why confession is needed, how anointing benefits the sick, why marriage is indissoluble, and why the priesthood is forever.

But these ideas no longer correspond to the world inhabited by most Catholics, so contemporary theologies are just as removed from real life as the scholastic theology they had hoped to replace.

Is there a way out of the current confusion? There is, but it is neither a dogmatic reassertion of the past nor a freefall into cultural relativism. We need to rediscover what is essential to the Christian way of life, reinvent ways to ritualize that, and reformulate what those rituals mean in terms that are faithful both to the teachings of Jesus and to the experience of living in accordance with them.


Joseph Martos is a retired professor of religion and philosophy living in Louisville, Kentucky, where he divides his time between writing, social activism, and public speaking. He has held full-time teaching positions in Louisville KY, Allentown PA, Cincinnati OH, and Sioux City IA, and he has taught summer courses in over a dozen universities in the United States, Canada and Australia. He did graduate study in philosophy and theology at Gregorian University and Boston College, and earned a doctorate from DePaul University in Chicago, writing a dissertation on Bernard Lonergan's theory of transcendent knowledge. He served as the director of the Russell Institute of Religion and Ministry at Spalding University until the university discontinued all of its humanities programs in 2003. Martos is the author of many books and articles on the sacraments. His book The Sacraments: An Interdisciplinary and Interactive Study deconstructs Catholic sacramental theology, exposing its conceptual flaws and intellectual instability. This article is based on research published in Deconstructing Sacramental Theology and Reconstructing Catholic Ritual (Wipf and Stock, 2015).

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Risen Jesus: Our Integral Ground

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What Jesus so profoundly demonstrates to us in his passage from death to life is that the walls between the realms are paper thin. Along the entire ray of creation, the "mansions" are interpenetrating and mutually permeable by love. The death of our physical form is not the death of our individual personhood. Our personhood remains alive and well, "hidden with Christ in God" (to use Paul's beautiful phrase in Colossians 3:3) and here and now we can draw strength from it (and him) to live our temporal lives with all the fullness of eternity. If we can simply keep our hearts wrapped around this core point, the rest of the Christian path begins to fall into place.

Yes, his physical form no longer walks the planet. But if we take him at his word, that poses no disruption to intimacy if we merely learn to recognize him at that other level, just as he has modeled for his disciples during those first forty days of Eastertide.

Nor has that intimacy subsided in two thousand years – at least according to the testimony of a long lineage of Christian mystics, who in a single voice proclaim that our whole universe is profoundly permeated with the presence of Christ. He surrounds, fills, holds together from top to bottom this human sphere in which we dwell. The entire cosmos has become his body, so to speak, and the blood flowing through it is his love. . . . Jesus in his ascended state is not farther removed from human beings but more intimately connected with them. He is the integral ground, the ambient wholeness within which our contingent human lives are always rooted and from which we are always receiving the help we need to keep moving ahead on the difficult walk we have to walk here. When the eye of our own heart is open and aligned within this field of perception, we recognize whom we're walking with.

– Cynthia Bourgeault
Excerpted from The Wisdom Jesus
pp.132-134


See also the previous PCV posts:
Easter: The Celebration of the Sacrament of Transformation
Easter Sunday: Resurrection
"You Will See Him"

Image: Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Bernard Hebda Named Archbishop of Twin Cities Archdiocese

Note: The following letter from Archbishop-Designate Hebda was released March 24, 2016 by the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

When I arrived in Minnesota for the first time last June, I was but a visitor – assigned as Apostolic Administrator to help with the operations of the Archdiocese until Pope Francis named a new Archbishop. In the nine months since then, I have been blessed to witness your deep faith and your commitment to Christ’s Church, His people, and the Eucharist. I consider many of you friends.

That is why it is with joy that I tell you of Pope Francis’ decision to appoint me as the next Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. The Pope and the Holy Spirit evidently had different plans for me than I had anticipated, and I am humbled and honored to be named your shepherd.

I know from my nine months in the Archdiocese that there is much work yet to be done to overcome the significant challenges we continue to face, but I am firm in my conviction that the Lord is truly present here, even in our struggles. The exceptional staff and leadership team at the Archdiocese, along with our strong priests, committed religious, and dynamic lay leaders are all reasons for great hope. You all seem to work tirelessly to serve Christ and His people no matter where they are found and for that I am most grateful.

It has already been an honor serving you and I very much look forward to continuing to serve you and this vibrant community for as long as the Lord sees fit.

Now more than ever, I will be counting on your prayers and support. Be assured of my prayers for you, your families, and this local Church.

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Reverend Bernard A. Hebda
Apostolic Administrator and Archbishop-Designate
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis


Related Off-site Links:
Archbishop Hebda Named Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis – Maria Wiering (The Catholic Spirit, March 24, 2016).
Interim Bernard Hebda Named Archbishop of Twin Cities Archdiocese – Tim Harlow and Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, March 24, 2016).
Hebda Named Archbishop of Twin Cities Archdiocese – Tim Nelson and Riham Feshir (MPR News, March 24, 2016).
Feeling the "Bern," for Good – Pope Names Hebda as Twin Cities Archbishop – Rocco Palmo (Whispers in the Loggia, March 24, 2016).
No Longer Administrator, How Might Hebda Change as Twin Cities Archbishop? – Brian Roewe (National Catholic Reporter, March 24, 2016).

See also the previous PCV posts:
CCCR Representatives Meet with Interim Archbishop Hebda
Good News! – Interim Archbishop Hebda to Hold Listening Sessions on Leadership Needs
Twin Cities Catholics Get Rare Chance to Make Archbishop Recommendations to Vatican