Monday, December 26, 2016

...that Fr. Martin has put it in proper perspective

This article was written by Fr. James Martin, SJ, best-selling author and editor of the Jesuit magazine, America.

The Synod on the Family, the gathering of bishops from around the world that just concluded, changed no Catholic doctrine. None.
But you wouldn't know that from the fierce reactions the synod evoked. Even the possibility that the church might deal more openly with, for example, divorced and remarried Catholics or the LGBT community, sent some Catholics into a near frenzy.

It seemed out of proportion to the synod's discussions as well as the final document, a rather workaday overview of issues related to the family. The final report did not, for example, say that divorced and remarried could return to Communion. Instead it talked about possible avenues of reconciliation that already existed. Nor did it approve same-sex marriage. Instead it spoke of respecting LGBT Catholics.

Overall, the document stressed two concepts: "accompaniment" and "discernment." The church must accompany families in the complexity of their lives and use discernment, a form of prayerful decision-making, to help people arrive at good decisions based on church teaching.
The final document is not even the final word. Pope Francis will most likely issue his own document within a few months, summing up the synod's findings and perhaps moving the discussion farther.

But even the hint of change prompted outrage -- which was directed not only at Pope Francis, but also the bishops at the synod, Catholic commentators, and from time to time, me. At times, the level of sheer spite was astounding.


First, let's give the benefit of the doubt to people upset by Pope Francis and some of the synod's discussions.

Those disturbed by the possibility of change are usually devout Catholics who believe that the law is an important part of Catholic tradition. And it is. Make no mistake: Jesus himself said he came to "fulfill the law." Many of the church's rules flow directly from the Gospels. Just consider divorce, the synod topic that captured much of the attention in the West. It is unequivocally stated by Jesus to be wrong.

Laws also are part of tradition, which Catholics believe is guided by the Holy Spirit. Even if certain rules do not come from the lips of Jesus, but rather from popes or other councils like Vatican II, they are considered to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. Thus, another reason to oppose change: Why would we change something that either comes from Jesus or is safeguarded by the Holy Spirit?

So some of the consternation is understandable.

Some, however, is harder to understand.
For if you're a devout Catholic who believes in the guidance of the Spirit, then you should also trust that the same Spirit is guiding Pope Francis and the synod. Sadly, in some corners that trust seems to have evaporated after the Pope's election, to be replaced with doubt, suspicion and anger.

Again why?

First, Catholics today often conflate dogma, doctrine and practice.
In the most basic (and simplified) theological terms dogma refers to our core beliefs. For example, beliefs like the Resurrection: That's foundational.

Doctrine encompasses the overall teachings of the church. For example, the teaching on birth control. Every doctrine is important, but not every doctrine is dogma. Finally, pastoral practice refers to how those doctrines are applied in real life. For example, how does a priest counsel a person who uses birth control?

In the past few decades, we have seen these three categories collapsed together, at least in the popular Catholic imagination. It is as if every teaching is seen as dogma. And this has had disastrous effects. Because a change in one is seen as an attack on everything.

In this view, changing the way that the church treats divorced and remarried Catholics is not simply an attack on pastoral practice, but on doctrine and perhaps even dogma. This is not to diminish important teachings, but rather to put them in their perspective.

Traditionally, we believe in a "hierarchy of truths," in which some teachings are simply more important than others. Obviously, the Resurrection is more important than what your pastor says about a local political candidate. The collapse of these three categories, then, means that even the hint of change is a threat. Thus some of the anger.

Second, change itself may be difficult for some Catholics because it threaten one's idea of a stable church. Yet the church has always changed. Not in its essentials, but in some important practices, as it responds to what Jesus called the "signs of the times."

Think of the changes wrought by the Second Vatican Council: The church's relations with the Jewish people changed utterly. The translation of the Mass from the Latin into vernacular languages changed the way we worship. Both were immense changes -- and necessary changes.

Third, a darker reason for the anger: a crushing sense of legalism of the kind that Jesus warned against. Sadly, I see this evident in our church, and it is ironic to find this in those who hew to the Gospels because this is one of the clearest things that Jesus opposed: "You load people with burdens hard to bear and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them!" he said in the Gospel of Luke.

As the Pope said in his closing remarks to the synod, the person who truly follows the doctrine is not the one who follows the letter of the law, but its spirit.

Fourth, even darker reasons for the anger: a hatred of LGBT Catholics that masks itself as a concern for their souls, a desire to shut out divorced and remarried because they are "sinful" and should be excluded from the church's communion, and a self-righteousness and arrogance that closes one off to the need for mercy. Also, a mere dislike of change because it threatens the black-and-white worldview.

But change began in the church almost as soon as the church began. St. Paul prevailed over St. Peter -- the "rock" upon which Jesus built his church -- over the question of whether the non-circumcised could be accepted into the faith. Without change early on, the church would have never moved beyond the Jewish community. St. Paul understood the need for change, even if it went against some cherished practices.

So did Jesus. He did not hesitate to bend or even set aside the rules if it meant applying more mercy. When he healed an infirm woman, painfully stooped over from arthritis or scoliosis, in the Gospel of Luke, on the Sabbath, he was critiqued for not following the rules. In response, he excoriates those who sought to lock him into unchanging legalisms: "Hypocrites!"

Fear of change holds the church back. And it does something worse. It removes love from the equation. In the past few weeks I have seen this fear lead to suspicion, mistrust and hate. And at the heart of this, I believe, is fear.

As St. Paul said, perfect love drives out fear. But perfect fear drives out love.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

...that the important thing now is to keep our Christian love and compassion flowing

It seems to me that the important thing now is that we keep our Christian love and compassion, and the hope it offers, flowing gently and lovingly through our families and communities.  There’s so much pain, so much fear and anger hanging over and around us, like a dark fog, keeping the light of our faith from shining through, just when it is so needed.

No matter how the recent election had turned out, one half of our nation would have been very unhappy.  Now there are protests on one end of the political spectrum and hate crimes on the other end.  Protest is the right of every citizen.  It’s what our country was born out of, but it should be  peaceful and respectful and that hasn’t always been the case.  Hate crimes are always deplorable.

 It seems to me that it should not be our role as Christians to take sides with, or to condemn, the people who are taking these actions.  While we recognize that certain actions are counter-productive and destructive, does name-calling and railing against the perpetrators do anything but feed the anger and fear and add to the darkness?

We don’t have to sit by quietly watching as our country is torn apart.  We can take NON-VIOLENT actions to protect the most vulnerable members of our society and the principles that our country was born of.  As Rev. John Dear of Pace e Bene [Peace and All Good] puts it,
Sitting back and doing nothing does not help, nor does it reflect our discipleship to the nonviolent Jesus or our common call to be peacemakers. We have to take a deep breath, remain centered and mindful, and do what we can to help build the movements of nonviolence on behalf of the poor, the children, the earth itself.”

Friday, October 14, 2016

That We Should Listen to Pope Francis

It seems to me that Jesus wants us to be united, not necessarily politically but in our love for Him, for the Father and for each other. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me."
(John 17:20-21)

 We are far from united.  We are in an ugly, escalating war of words with each other.  Jesus said, …every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” ( Matthew 12:25)

There has been division between Christians for centuries, but it certainly looks like the current political warfare is widening the division among us, and among all the people of this nation. It's unanimous that this is the nastiest presidential campaign in recent history.  There is so little attention given to the very serious issues facing our country and the world, and so much effort, on both sides, to destroy the other candidate’s reputation.  There have been threats to imprison the other candidate and thinly disguised suggestions that the opposing candidate could be permanently eliminated. What is this country coming to? 

And it seems to me that instead of demanding that the candidates focus on the issues, the citizenry is jumping on the “destroy the other guy” bandwagon and spreading whatever dirt they can dig up on the candidate they are opposed to, with little effort to discern whether or not it’s based on truth.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)
Jesus did not condemn individuals.  Even though He was the Messiah promised to the House of Israel, He recognized all people who turned to him in faith; and He declared, I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16).
How can we hear His voice if we’re all shouting at each other?

It seems to me that, as followers of Christ, neither should we be condemning. Rather we should follow the advice of Pope Francis to, "Study the proposals well, pray and choose in conscience.” each of us according to our own conscience which, as we have been taught, is the ultimate guide to human conduct.

Please feel free to comment but not about the candidates.  I am not looking for a political response with regard to the current election.