By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Impressions of a Current Best Seller

The Case for God
Karen Armstrong is a former nun (no longer Catholic or Christian) who lives in England and is a very well-known, graceful writer and speaker on religious topics. Her latest book is entitled The Case for God. I have just finished it. It is a tour de force of religious and especially Western cultural and philosophical history. She should be applauded for striving to give an informed overview of vast cultural development in an age of overspecialization where, too often, the overload of fragmented information leaves many without any possibility of creating a comprehensive vision of the past or of the future.

Having given my accolades, let me be clear that, not surprisingly, I do not share her theological tendencies, the most fundamental of which seems to be that all religious traditions are created equal. I also sense in her work the apparent presumption that it is never appropriate to interpret religious texts as being reliable guides to the accurate depiction of actual historical events. It is not clear to me if she views that working presumption against historically "referential" religious texts as being rebuttable in certain, theologically significant cases. (By "referential" I mean that the text actually refers to some real, objective event in history that observers can verify.) In the end, she paints a picture of worldwide religious fraternity based on the view that the historical details do not really matter as long as the mythic aspect of different religious texts are plumbed for their deeper, universal, and common meanings. Many Christians, especially in the developing world, will view this approach as inadequate to the uniqueness of the Christian Gospel.

Yet, I can recommend the book to readers who are prepared to read critically and are not predisposed toward an uncritical embrace of a particular author's view of history or of religion. In my opinion, she does a fine job of exposing the fact that many of the new militant atheist writers of today are theologically tone deaf in assuming, without justification, that Christianity is tied to a fundamentalist approach to the Bible. She turns the tables on these aggressive atheist writers by calling them "fundamentalists" themselves who refuse to recognize the possibility and reality of a nuanced and literarily responsible interpretation of the Bible's diverse genres.

Yet, my main critique remains and is as follows. She makes much of the distinction between symbolic, non-literal discourse (mythos) and practical, logical discourse referring to objectively observed realities (logos). By viewing religious texts as merely or primarily mythos, she deftly turns back any criticism that such texts may be fictional. But, as a Christian, that approach is a strategy that is not acceptable when applied to the proclamation of the death and bodily resurrection of Jesus and thus is not ultimately favorable to the Christian stance. The key Christian response to her approach was made long ago by C.S. Lewis, an expert in mythology as a genre in both pagan and Christian inspired works. For Lewis, the Gospel is a true myth, which combines the profound symbolic meaning that Armstrong rightly sees in mythos with the objective, historical reference to truly occurring events that Armstrong labels logos. For Christians, in Jesus, the profound yearnings of all humanity expressed in mythos became true in actual history or logos. In short, the tomb was indeed empty. Interestingly, given Armstrong's terminology, it is a commonplace that Christians in fact view Jesus as the Logos, as even she takes care to note in her book.

That Armstrong seems to assume that Christianity can somehow overlook the logos part points to her own misunderstanding of the Christian foundational writings known as the New Testament. It is undeniable that Paul, to pick one example from the New Testament writers, understood that the Gospel story must of necessity involve a real death and a real bodily resurrection; or else all bets are off. Thus, the well-intentioned Armstrong attempt to divorce logos discourse from the New Testament falls flat. Of course, Christians would have no problem with applying a purely symbolic interpretation to the texts of other religious traditions in an attempt to find common truths in such texts. But the Bible, especially the New Testament, contains, at crucial theological points, another type of story very different from the mythos described by Armstrong. Yet, having made that point, I am not saying, for example, that a Christian or a practicing Jew cannot view the story of Jonah or even of Ruth as not being straightforward history and as instead being primarily mythos, due to their distinctive literary genres as objectively indicated by various textual clues. In contrast to, say, Ruth or Jonah, the genre of the Gospel proclaimed in the New Testament is, as Lewis noted, true myth (not merely symbolically "true") that combines both mythos and logos, two aspects that cannot be divorced in the particular case of the Gospel. Nevertheless, even with the above, significant reservations, I still enjoyed Armstrong's book and can recommend it to the critical reader.

Monday, December 28, 2009

An Email Message from Mainland China

Dear Oswald, My Brother in the Lord,
The peace and joy in the Lord!

I believe you are doing very well as many brothers and sisters who are with their living faith to involve different ministries of the Church.

Thank you so much for your outstanding works. I do appreciate your sound knowledge on dealing with the topics. I'd like you know that the works, after some adaption with Chinese with the culture, have been used in our NE ["New Evangelization"] ministry after an adaption to our culture. They are quite popular. May God bless you continuously for your new work inspired by the Holy Spirit. Welcome to China, the vast missionary land in the harvest season!

With my thanksful heart to you and all of the friends, who have supported us for the NE ["New Evangelization"] in China, in this wonderful season I wish you and your loved ones all,




Fraternally in the Lord,

Blogger Comment:

Joe is a Chinese Catholic whom I met when he was a seminarian; if he has yet to be ordained (I am not sure if he has been ordained already), he will likely be ordained soon to the priesthood. I post this message not to pat myself on the back for the "works" that he thanks me for in the email, but rather to point out to every reader that even what we may consider insignificant may be used by Adonai in good and unexpected ways far, far beyond our home turf. I believe that potential use is as true of you, Christian reader (or potential Christian reader, regardless of your current religious affiliation or lack thereof), as is true of Joe or of me.

The "works" that Joe refers to are pamphlets explaining the Catholic view of God and the Bible to people with no prior religious formation, as is commonly the case in China. If this century will be the Chinese century, then, for the sake of humanity, let it be an increasingly Christian Chinese century for the ultimate benefit and evangelization of all mankind everywhere, for the uplifting of the poor, and for the spread of respect for human dignity and human rights everywhere during this exciting century. Amen.

[The black bold print and information in brackets in the original email were added by this blogger.]

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to Blog Readers

Many thanks to all readers of this blog of all religions and backgrounds (including secular), to all who comment, and especially to those who send me links (you know who you are). All of you are greatly appreciated. May Adonai pour down his blessings on each of you in this season and in the year 2010. I invite you to consider letting others know that this blog is also available for their use and participation, whether directly on the web or through Facebook or Twitter. There is also a Spanish version focusing on the Sunday lectionary readings for those who wish to practice their Spanish reading skills or who are already fluent.

Two More Implicated Irish Bishops Out; One Left

So far, three out of four implicated bishops have resigned because of the devastating report on years of covering up sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin. The resignations are signs that the current leadership in Dublin and, of course, the Pope are very serious about starting anew. Here is the N.Y. Times link to the AP story. (Let me be clear, for the sake of fairness, that these bishops are implicated in covering up abuse, not in actually carrying it out.)

If this same sort of decisive, dramatic action had been taken in Boston years ago, the Church in the U.S. would have recovered much more quickly from the Boston debacle. The problem in Boston was that the ordinary (Cardinal Law) was himself implicated in the cover up and was resisting calls for his own resignation. Fortunately, in Dublin, the relatively new archbishop was uninvolved in any cover ups and so is free to ask these other bishops to resign, as, to his credit, he has done.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Pope's Christmas Homily

I found it at Whispers in the Loggia. Emphasis below is mine:

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

"A child is born for us, a son is given to us" (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly "God with us". No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20). For you the Saviour is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God's incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His "self" is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as "religiously tone deaf". The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us "tone deaf" towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear "tone deaf" and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Lk 23 :9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel's message, the shepherds said one to another: "'Let us go over to Bethlehem' they went at once" (Lk 2:15f.). "They made haste" is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Saviour is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: "Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)". For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place however important they may be so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbour is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to "come over" (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbours. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbours and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: "Come on, 'let us go over' to Bethlehem to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has travelled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbour, in whom Christ awaits us.

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: "Let us see this thing that has happened." Literally the Greek text says: "Let us see this Word that has occurred there." Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist's sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God's love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who b ecame a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

Note to Blog Readers

I am trying out the new Google Chrome browser that you can download for free, and it seems to work very well so far. Something to keep in mind for readers of this blog. Of course, the Internet Explorer browser is fine also.

What It Means


[Emphasis added by blogger]

VATICAN CITY, 23 DEC 2009 (VIS) - In his general audience, celebrated this morning in the Paul VI Hall, the Pope focused his remarks on the subject of Christmas.

At the beginning of his catechesis the Holy Father explained that "the Church's liturgical year did not initially develop on the basis of Christ's birth but on that of faith in His resurrection. Hence, the most ancient feast of Christianity is not Christmas but Easter. The resurrection of Christ is what founded the Christian faith, underpinned the announcement of the Gospel and brought the Church into being".

"The first person to make the clear affirmation that Jesus was born on 25 December was Hippolytus of Rome in his commentary on the Book of Daniel, written around the year 204", said the Pope.

"In the Christian world, the feast of Christmas assumed a distinct form in the fourth century when it took the place of the Roman feast of the 'Sol invictus', the sun unconquered. This highlighted the fact that the birth of Christ is the victory of the true light over the darkness of evil and sin. Yet the particular and intense spiritual atmosphere that now surrounds Christmas developed during the Middle Ages, thanks to St. Francis of Assisi who was profoundly enamoured of Jesus the man, of the God-with-us".

"This particular devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation was the origin of the famous Christmas celebration in Greccio. ... St. Francis with his nativity scene highlighted the defenceless love, humility and goodness of God, Who in the Incarnation of the Word shows Himself to mankind in order to teach them a new way to live and love".

The Pope then went on to recall the fact that the first biographer of St. Francis, Thomas of Celano, recounted how, "on that Christmas night, Francis was granted the grace of a marvellous vision. He saw, lying immobile in the manger, a small child Who was reawakened from sleep by the proximity of Francis himself".

"Thanks to St. Francis, Christian people are able to understand that at Christmas God truly became the 'Emmanuel', the God-with-us, from Whom no barrier or distance separates us. In that Child, God became so close to each of us ... that we can establish an intimate rapport of profound affection with Him, just as we do with a newborn child.

"In that Child", the Holy Father added, "God-Love becomes manifest: God comes unarmed and powerless, because He does not intend to conquer, so to say, from the outside; rather, He intends to be accepted by man in freedom. God becomes a defenceless child to overcome man's pride, violence and thirst for possession. In Jesus, God assumed this poor and disarming condition in order to triumph over us with love and lead us to our true identity".

"His being a Child likewise indicates to us that we can meet God and enjoy His presence", the Pope concluded. "People who have not understood the mystery of Christmas have not understood the decisive element of Christian existence: that those who do not accept Jesus with the heart of a child cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven. This is what St. Francis wished to tell the Christian world of his time and of all times, even unto today".

Clearing the Air

[Emphasis added by blogger]

VATICAN CITY, 23 DEC 2009 (VIS) - Holy See Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi S.J. today issued the following note concerning the signing of the recent decree on the heroic virtues of Servant of God Pope Pius XII.

"The Pope's signing of the decree 'on the heroic virtues' of Pius XII has elicited a certain number of reactions in the Jewish world; perhaps because the meaning of such a signature is clear in the area of the Catholic Church and of specialists in the field, but may merit certain explanation for the larger public, in particular the Jewish public who are understandably very sensitive to all things concerning the historical period of World War II and the Holocaust.

"When the Pope signs a decree 'on the heroic virtues' of a Servant of God - i.e., of a person for whom a cause for beatification has been introduced - he confirms the positive evaluation already voted by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. ... Naturally, such evaluation takes account of the circumstances in which the person lived, and hence it is necessary to examine the question from a historical standpoint, but the evaluation essentially concerns the witness of Christian life that the person showed (his intense relationship with God and continuous search for evangelical perfection) ... and not the historical impact of all his operative decisions".

"At the beatification of Pope John XXIII and of Pope Pius IX, John Paul II said: 'holiness lives in history and no saint has escaped the limits and conditioning which are part of our human nature. In beatifying one of her sons, the Church does not celebrate the specific historical decisions he may have made, but rather points to him as someone to be imitated and venerated because of his virtues, in praise of the divine grace which shines resplendently in them'.

"There is, then, no intention in any way to limit discussion concerning the concrete choices made by Pius XII in the situation in which he lived. For her part, the Church affirms that these choices were made with the pure intention of carrying out the Pontiff's service of exalted and dramatic responsibility to the best of his abilities. In any case, Pius XII's attention to and concern for the fate of the Jews - something which is certainly relevant in the evaluation of his virtues - are widely testified and recognised, also by many Jews.

"The field for research and evaluation by historians, working in their specific area, thus remains open, also for the future. In this specific case it is comprehensible that there should be a request to have open access to all possibilities of research on the documents. ... Yet for the complete opening of the archives - as has been said on a number of occasions in the past - it is necessary to organise and catalogue an enormous mass of documentation, something which still requires a number of years' work.

"As for the fact that the decree on the heroic virtues of Pope John Paul II and Pope Pius XII were promulgated on the same day, this does not mean that from now on the two causes will be 'paired'. They are completely independent of one another and each will follow its own course. There is, then, no reason to imagine that any future beatification will take place together".

"It is, then, clear that the recent signing of the decree is in no way to be read as a hostile act towards the Jewish people, and it is to be hoped that it will not be considered as an obstacle on the path of dialogue between Judaism and the Catholic Church. Rather we trust that the Pope's forthcoming visit to the Synagogue of Rome will be an opportunity for the cordial reiteration and reinforcement of ties of friendship and respect".

Thursday, December 24, 2009

From Presentation Ministries for Christmas

Here it is as found at


"Here He comes springing across the mountains." —Song of Songs 2:8

Those who don't know God think being a Christian is boring. They even think that a Christ-centered Christmas is more boring than a worldly Xmas. But they're wrong in both cases. Here are a few snapshots of a Christ-centered Christmas. The Lord "comes springing across the mountains, leaping across the hills" (Sg 2:8). We respond by shouting (Zep 3:14). Then we sing joyfully (Zep 3:14). Next, this springing, leaping, and loving Lord sings joyfully because of us (Zep 3:17). We and the Lord sing back and forth to each other, and the whole place starts to jump. Then we dance with the springing, leaping, loving, and singing Lord. Even babies in the womb start to dance by jumping for joy as they receive the Holy Spirit (see Lk 1:44). The rejoicing in our town rises to fever pitch (Acts 8:8). The place starts to shake as we pray (Acts 4:31). We are all "filled with the Holy Spirit," the only true Christmas Spirit (Acts 4:31).

This is only one scene of Christ's Christmas season. Yes, we will have a "silent night, holy night" during the Christmas season. However, some of our Christmas nights and days will not be silent, but thunderously joyful. Come, Lord Jesus!

Source link.

Good News: The Clean Up Continues

A second Irish bishop resigns in response to the release of the government's investigation into abuse. Here is the BBC link, courtesy of a reader. May all implicated take their bags and go. Now.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reopen the Eastern Orthodox Seminary in Istanbul

Since closing it in 1971, the Turkish authorities have refused to allow the prestigious Eastern Orthodox seminary in Istanbul (Constantinople) to reopen, even after being urged to do so by various U.S. Presidents, by Congress, and, apparently, also by the European Union. Here is a link giving the background to this international scandal in violation of fundamental freedom of religion.

Contact the Turkish embassy in Washington, D.C., to make your views known on this absurd situation. Here is the embassy web link.

Turkey Embassy , United States

2525 Massachusetts Ave


District of Columbia








Website URL:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Pope's Mind

[Emphasis added by blogger]

VATICAN CITY, 21 DEC 2009 (VIS) - Today in the Clementine Hall of the Vatican Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father held his traditional meeting with the cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and members of the Roman Curia and of the Governorate of Vatican City State, in order to exchange Christmas greetings.

Opening his address, the Pope recalled two events that marked the year 2009 - the conclusion of the Pauline Year and the beginning of the Year for Priests - affirming that both St. Paul and the saintly "Cure of Ars" demonstrate "the broad scope of priestly ministry".

"The year now drawing to a close passed largely under the sign of Africa", said the Holy Father. In this context he mentioned his apostolic trip to Cameroon and Angola where, "in the meeting with the Pope, the universal Church became manifest, a community that embraces the world and that is brought together by God through Christ, a community that is not founded on human interests but that arises from God's loving attention towards us".

In Africa "the celebrations of the Eucharist were authentic feasts of faith" characterised by "a sense of holiness, by the presence of the mystery of the loving God moulding ... each individual gesture", said Benedict XVI. [Blogger comment: The Pope is praising the renewed liturgy of Vatican II; so much for the traditionalist caricature of the Pope by both the theological left and the theological right.] He also recalled his meeting with African bishops in Cameroon and the inauguration of the Synod for Africa with his consignment to them of the "Instrumentum laboris".

His visit to Africa likewise "revealed the theological and pastoral force of pontifical primacy as a point of convergence for the unity of the Family of God". And, when the Synod itself was celebrated in Rome in October, "the importance of the collegiality - of the unity - of the bishops emerged even more powerfully", he said.

"The Vatican Council II renewal of the liturgy took exemplary form" in the liturgies in Africa while, "in the communion of the Synod, we had a practical experience of the ecclesiology of the Council".

[Blogger comment: If you didn't get it the first time, the Pope likes the renewed liturgy of Vatican II.]

Referring then to the theme of the 2009 Synod - "The Church in Africa at the service of reconciliation, justice and peace" - the Pope described it as "a theological and, above all, a pastoral theme of vital relevance. Yet", he said, "it could also be misunderstood as a political theme. The task of the bishops was to transform theology into pastoral activity; in other words, into a concrete pastoral ministry in which the great visions of Holy Scripture and Tradition are applied to the activities of bishops and priests in a specific time and place".

The problem of "a positive secularism, correctly practised and interpreted", which was the focus of the African bishops' concerns, was "also a fundamental theme of my Encyclical 'Caritas in veritate'", published in June. That document "returned to and further developed the question concerning the theological role - and the concrete application - of Church social doctrine". [Blogger comment: That is the challenge for all of us, here and abroad. We are not "theocrats" as in other religious traditions that seek to impose religious law on an entire society.]

On the subject of reconciliation, which "the Synod attempted to examine profoundly ... as a task facing the Church today", the Pope noted that "if man is not reconciled with God, he is also in disharmony with the creation. ... Another aspect of reconciliation is the capacity to recognise guilt and to ask forgiveness, of God and of neighbour", he said.

"We must learn the ability to do penance, to allow ourselves to be transformed, to go out to meet others and to allow God to grant us the courage and strength for such renewal. In this world of ours today we must rediscover the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation". In this context, the Holy Father described the fact that people are confessing less than they used to as "a symptom of a loss of veracity towards ourselves and towards God; a loss that endangers our humanity and diminishes our capacity for peace". [Blogger comment: That "loss of veracity" is also manifest in those who fail to mitigate, recognize, or try to correct the very real tragic consequences of their actions on others after participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called such a casual approach "cheap grace."]

"If the power of reconciliation is not created in people's hearts, political commitment lacks the interior precondition necessary for peace. During the Synod, the pastors of the Church worked for this interior purification of man, which is the essential preliminarily requirement for creating justice and peace. But such interior purification and maturity ... cannot exist without God".

The Holy Father then turned his attention to the pilgrimage he made in May to Jordan and the Holy Land. In this respect, he thanked the king of Jordan for "the exemplary manner in which he works for peaceful coexistence among Christians and Muslims, for respect towards the religion of others and for responsible collaboration before God".

The Pope also thanked the Israeli government "for all it did to ensure my visit could take place peacefully and securely", and for having enabled him "to celebrate two great public liturgies: in Jerusalem and in Nazareth". He likewise expressed his thanks to the Palestinian Authority for its "great cordiality" and for having given him the opportunity to celebrate a "public liturgy in Bethlehem and to perceive the suffering and the hopes present in their territory".

"The visit to Yad Vashem represented a disturbing encounter with human cruelty, with the hatred of a blind ideology which, with no justification, consigned millions of human beings to death and which, in the final analysis, also sought to drive God from the world: the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, and the God of Jesus Christ". Thus the museum is, "first and foremost, a commemorative monument against hatred, a heartfelt call to purification, forgiveness and love".

The Holy Father also mentioned his September trip to the Czech Republic where, "I was always told, agnostics and atheists are in the majority and Christians now represent only a minority". In this context he noted how "people who describe themselves as agnostics or atheist must also be close to our hearts, as believers. When we speak of a new evangelisation these people may perhaps feel afraid. ... Yet the critical question about God also exists for them. ... We must take care that man does not shelve the question of God, the essential question of his existence".

In closing his address, the Holy Father again mentioned the current Year for Priests. "As priests", he said, "we are here to serve everyone. ... We must recognise God ever and anew, and seek Him continually in order to become His true friends".

"This is my hope for Christmas," he concluded, "that we become ever greater friends of Christ, and therefore friends of God, and that in this way we may become salt of the earth and light of the world".

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Lesson from Tolkien's The Silmarillion

Having recently finished a reading of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkien, I have now turned to another of his books, The Silmarillion. I find it uncanny how Tolkien so well expresses the Christian experience. Here is a description that will ring a bell for those also on pilgrimage (the "bell" motif is an intended pun for the liturgically astute):

But of Olorin that tale does not speak; for though he loved the Elves, he walked among them unseen, or in form as one of them, and they did not know whence came the fair visions or the promptings of wisdom that he put into their hearts. In later days he was the friend of all children of Ilúvatar, and took pity on their sorrows; and those who listened to him awoke from despair and put away the imaginations of darkness.

The Silmarillion, in "Of the Maiar," Valaquenta (emphasis added).

Think Holy Spirit.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Clean Up Begins

Irish Bishop Resigns Over Dublin Sex-Abuse Scandal

[Emphasis added by blogger]

Filed at 1:13 p.m. ET

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- A Roman Catholic bishop in Ireland has resigned after an investigation into child sex abuse by clergymen accused him of ignoring reports of crimes by priests in his diocese, the Vatican said Thursday.

The one-line announcement that Bishop Donal Murray had resigned did not mention the scandal.

But a statement that Murray read to colleagues and curates in the western Irish city of Limerick left no doubt that he was going because of an Irish government investigation's damning findings about his time as an auxiliary bishop in Dublin from 1982 to 1996.

''I know full well that my resignation cannot undo the pain that survivors of abuse have suffered in the past and continue to suffer each day,'' the 69-year-old Murray said. ''I humbly apologize once again to all who were abused as little children.''

Murray had been widely expected to resign following last month's report from a government-appointed commission. It ruled that Murray had handled reports of child-abusing priests ''particularly badly'' -- and condemned his failure to crack down on one particular abuser, the Rev. Thomas Naughton, as ''inexcusable.''

Murray transferred Naughton to new parishes despite receiving reports that he was molesting children. Naughton since has been convicted twice of raping altar boys.

The investigation found that four other serving bishops and five retired bishops, including Cardinal Desmond Connell, played a role in a decade of cover-up.

The report said church leaders in the Dublin Archdiocese failed to inform authorities about sexual abuse by priests, while police failed to pursue allegations because they considered church figures to be above the law.

The leader of Ireland's four million Catholics, Cardinal Sean Brady, said he was praying for Murray and offered his own apology ''to all who were abused as children by priests, who were betrayed and who feel outraged by the failure of church leadership in responding to their abuse.''

One abuse survivor, former altar boy Andrew Madden, said Murray's resignation was not enough and other church leaders should quit too.

He called for the immediate resignation of four other serving bishops who were based in Dublin during the period investigated: Jim Moriarty, Martin Drennan, Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field.

''Their continued presence in office is an insult to every child sexually abused by a priest in the Dublin Archdiocese. They display a contemptible level of arrogance and a shocking lack of humility,'' Madden said.

[Blogger comment: Any trace of arrogance and lack of humility should be the most immovable of obstacles to priestly ordination.]

But all four bishops have said they have no intention of tendering their resignations to the pope. Unlike Murray, the other four bishops were not found to have bungled any specific abuse reports.

The Vatican has been harshly criticized in Ireland, a nation of staunch Catholic traditions, for failing to answer letters from the Dublin Archdiocese investigators.

Last week, the Vatican described Benedict as being ''deeply disturbed'' by the sex-abuse scandal and said he will write a letter to Catholics in Ireland with the Holy See's response. It said also the pope shares the ''outrage, betrayal and shame'' felt by many Irish faithful.

Benedict issued that statement after meeting at the Vatican with senior Irish clergy to discuss possible resignations of Murray and other Irish bishops criticized in the Dublin Archdiocese investigation.

The 720-page report found that dozens of church leaders in Ireland's most populous diocese kept secret the record of child abuse by more than 170 clerics since 1940.

Police and social workers charged with stopping child abuse didn't start getting cooperation from the church until 1995. This opened the floodgates to thousands of abuse complaints expected to cost the Dublin Archdiocese euro20 million ($30 million).

The leader of an American group campaigning against Catholic cover-ups of pedophile priests welcomed Murray's resignation but said it wasn't nearly enough.

''Wounded adults and vulnerable children need widespread reform, not sacrificial lambs,'' said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.


Blogger comment: It didn't take long after Irish bishops recently met with the Pope for the first axe to fall. Notice also that the AP refers to scandals since 1940. That puts a bit of a crimp into the wrong-headed and obtuse traditionalist attempt to pin everything bad on Vatican II (1962-65). (This AP story was provided by a reader.)


The role of substance abuse in these crimes is set forth here by Damian Thompson. In this situation, denial and the desire to not air dirty laundry must be the first things to be abandoned. If more bishops had done that, at once, years ago, both in the U.S. and in Ireland (and in other places), a gigantic scandal would have been of far smaller, although still and always of tragic, scope.

You can find a PDF copy of the official government commission report on the scandals at this link.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The God Who Humbled Himself

We have it spelled out eloquently and powerfully for all time in Philippians 2 (English Standard Version):

2:1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by
being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [1] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, [2] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Source link (emphasis added).

The Greek term for this "emptying out" or "making oneself nothing" is kenosis. The divine Son did it. It is the secret for our own personal fulfillment, however counterintuitive it may be in the light of what our society preaches to us incessantly. Some will try to empty this Pauline passage of its revolutionary impact by claiming--contrary to all the evidence--that this passage does not single out Jesus as having a uniquely divine status among men. Well, if that absence of divine origin or status is what Paul had in mind, then the passage loses all its rhetorical force and power. Certainly, everything we know about Paul and written by Paul tells us that Paul certainly intended this kenosis to be a model for all of us precisely because the divine Son himself freely chose to empty himself out for us. In a typically rabbinic mode of argumentation, Rabbi Paul is saying: if the divine Son did it, how much more should we! (See this link.)

In this passage, we see a very distinctive Christian "take" on the divine. I am aware of no other religious tradition with anything similar (except--not surprisingly at all--for passages in the Hebrew Bible, where Adonai, so to speak, "humbles" himself by continuing to seek after Israel even after having been scorned or rejected). In fact, I expect (subject, of course, to correction) that many, if not possibly all, non-Jewish, non-Christian religious traditions would find it scandalous to even speculate that the divine would choose to "humble" itself. Maybe, that scandal is a good reason for sometimes calling Christianity the "anti-religion," in the special sense of "religion" defined as a projection of our human way of thinking.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The New Fundamentalists

In my personal experience, either firsthand or through reading, there seems to be a pattern in the background of some atheists (I include some of them as cordial, pleasant friends): they are reacting, understandably, to a fundamentalist Christian background. Of course, other atheists may be reacting to fundamentalism as found in other religious traditions. Recently, I picked up a book by Karen Armstrong (The Case for God) in which she boldly and, I believe, correctly identifies many of the vociferous and best-selling new atheist writers as the mirror image of religious fundamentalists. She points out how some of the most prominent new, aggressive atheist writers are obviously theologically illiterate and thus simplistically see all religion as fundamentalist. In contrast, the main trunk of Christianity--Catholicism--has never been fundamentalist in its view of the Bible. For example, like many other Catholics, I do not have any problem with the biological application of the theory of evolution; it is hard for many Catholics to understand the obsession of some other Christians with this issue.

So much of what the new aggressive atheism says really misses the mark when it comes to Catholicism. It is good to see Ms. Armstrong (apparently, a former Catholic) making that point. (Note: Having begun the book, I already disagree with her on some other matters. She draws a distinction between mythos and logos that seems to roughly correspond in her eyes to the division between religion and secular knowledge; but, for Christians, Jesus is the Logos. This issue needs to be sorted out by a reviewer. In addition, it seems that her philosophical analysis may possibly be ignoring the contributions and insights of the philosophical school of American pragmatism which would tend not to make such a stark division between mythos and logos. I will withhold final judgment until I read the entire book.)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pope Responds


VATICAN CITY, 11 DEC 2009 (VIS) - The Holy See Press Office released the following English-language communique at midday today:

"Today the Holy Father held a meeting with senior Irish bishops and high-ranking members of the Roman Curia. He listened to their concerns and discussed with them the traumatic events that were presented in the Irish Commission of Investigation's Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin.

"After careful study of the report, the Holy Father was deeply disturbed and distressed by its contents. He wishes once more to express his profound regret at the actions of some members of the clergy who have betrayed their solemn promises to God, as well as the trust placed in them by the victims and their families, and by society at large.

"The Holy Father shares the outrage, betrayal and shame felt by so many of the faithful in Ireland, and he is united with them in prayer at this difficult time in the life of the Church.

"His Holiness asks Catholics in Ireland and throughout the world to join him in praying for the victims, their families and all those affected by these heinous crimes.

"He assures all concerned that the Church will continue to follow this grave matter with the closest attention in order to understand better how these shameful events came to pass and how best to develop effective and secure strategies to prevent any recurrence.

"The Holy See takes very seriously the central issues raised by the report, including questions concerning the governance of local Church leaders with ultimate responsibility for the pastoral care of children.

"The Holy Father intends to address a Pastoral Letter to the faithful of Ireland in which he will clearly indicate the initiatives that are to be taken in response to the situation.

"Finally, His Holiness encourages all those who have dedicated their lives in generous service to children to persevere in their good works in imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd".

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Doing Good Is the Solution to the Problem of Evil


[Emphasis added by blogger]

VATICAN CITY, 8 DEC 2009 (VIS) - Today at 4.15 p.m. Benedict XVI travelled by car to Rome's Piazza di Spagna to place the traditional floral wreath at the foot of the statue of Mary in celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

Before arriving in the square, the Holy Father stopped briefly at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity to greet the Dominican Friars and the members of the Via Condotti Storeowners Association. Once in the square, in the presence of thousands of faithful, he blessed a basket of roses which was placed at the foot of the column bearing Mary's statue.

"What does Mary say to the city" What does her presence call to mind?" the Pope asked. "She reminds that 'where sin increased, grace abounded all the more'. ... She is the Immaculate Mother who tells the men and women of our time: do not be afraid".

"What need we have of this beautiful piece of news!" the Holy Father exclaimed. "Every day, through newspapers, television and radio, evil is recounted, repeated, amplified, making us accustomed to the most terrible things, making us insensitive and, in some way, intoxicating us, because the negative is never fully purged and accumulates day after day. The heart becomes harder and thoughts become darker. For this reason, the city needs Mary who ... brings us hope even in the most difficult situations".

The Pope went on to recall how our cities are inhabited by "invisible men and women", people who "now and again appear on the front pages or on television screens, and are exploited to the last drop for as long as their news and image attract attention. This is a perverse mechanism which unfortunately we find difficult to resist. The city first hides people them exposes to the public, without pity or with false pity", when the truth is that "each human story is a sacred story and calls for the greatest respect.

"The city is made up of us all", Benedict XVI added. "Each of us contributes to its life and its moral climate, for good or for evil. The confine between good and evil passes through each of our hearts". Yet, "the mass media tend to make us feel as if we are spectators, as if evil only concerned others, and that certain things could never happen to us. Whereas we are all 'actors' and, in evil as in good, our behaviour has an effect on others".

After then asking Mary Immaculate to help us "rediscover and defend the profundity of human beings", the Pope paid homage to all those people who, "in silence, ... strive to practice the evangelical law of love, which moves the world". They are "men and women of all ages who have understood that condemnation, complaint and recrimination serve no purpose, and that it is more worthwhile to respond to evil with good. This changes things; or rather, it changes people and, as a consequence, improves society".

Blogger comment:

Instead of merely agonizing over the problem of evil (something which the Bible itself has eloquently and definitively done already in the book of Job composed centuries and centuries ago), what do I do, what do you do to give the only response that is really needed? Do good.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Great Advent Video

You will find it below. It was sent to me by a seminarian friend from St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, which, to my knowledge, is the largest college seminary in the U.S. (as to number of students).

An Exemplary Priest

An Australian priest recounts his work with the disabled in Lebanon in this Zenit article that is well worth your time, especially as we await the joy of Christmas. Notice also that I have categorized this article under the tag of "Exemplary Priests" so that we can maintain an accurate perspective on recent disclosures out of Ireland.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Final Talk Outline on Pope's Encyclical on Social Doctrine

Here is the link to my final talk on the Pope's most recent encyclical "Charity in Truth" (Caritas in Veritate), which discusses the social teaching of the Church. For links to the previous two related talks on the same encyclical, go to this other link.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Weigel Brings Clarity

The Vatican and the Lefebvrists: not a negotiation

by George Weigel

[Blogger comment: Weigel hits the nail on the head in this column dated Nov. 18, 2009. Emphasis added by blogger.]

Prior to the opening of formal conversations between officials of the Holy See and leaders of the Lefebvrist Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), which began on Oct. 26, the mainstream media frequently misrepresented these discussions as a negotiation aimed at achieving a compromise that both sides can live with. That was to be expected from reporters and commentators for whom everything is politics and everything is thus negotiable. Alas, similar misrepresentations came from “Vatican insiders” who suggested that the teaching of the Second Vatican Council was under joint review by the Holy See and the SSPX, which only made matters worse.

Here is what’s going on here, and what isn’t.
1. The conversations between leaders of the SSPX and the Holy See are just that: conversations. These are not negotiations, for there is nothing to be negotiated; nor is this a dialogue between equal partners. On the one hand, we have the bishop of Rome and those curial officials whose work is an extension of his papal office; on the other hand, we have a society of clergy who have been living in disobedience to the Roman pontiff for decades, and their lay followers, many of whom are more confused than willfully schismatic. The purpose of these conversations is to make clear what the Second Vatican Council taught (especially about the nature of the Church), to listen politely to what the SSPX has to say, and to invite the SSPX back into the full communion of the Catholic Church, which the SSPX broke in 1988 when Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre committed the schismatic act of illicitly ordaining bishops without the authorization of the Roman pontiff (and against the direct, personal pleas of Pope John Paul II).

2. Despite what some “Vatican insiders” have said, these conversations do not represent a bold initiative by the Holy See; and despite the carping from the mainstream media, these conversations are not a craven papal concession to the demands of angry traditionalists whose dissent from Vatican II Benedict XVI is alleged to share. Rather, the conversations now underway are an act of pastoral charity by the pope, who is quite clear about the settled doctrine of the Church and who wishes to invite all, including members of the SSPX, to adhere to that doctrine. Nor is this about mutual enrichment; it is not easy to see how the Catholic Church is to be theologically enriched by the ideas of those who, whatever the depth of their traditional liturgical piety, reject the mid-20th century reform of Catholic thought of which Joseph Ratzinger was a leader. The pope is under no illusions on this score; his purpose is to invite the SSPX back into full communion, thus preventing the schism of 1988 from becoming a permanent wound in the Mystical Body of Christ.

3. The issues to be engaged in these conversations do not involve liturgy; the pope has addressed the legitimate pastoral needs of SSPX clergy and SSPX-affiliated laity by his decree allowing the unrestricted use of the 1962 Roman Missal. The real questions have to do with other matters. Does the SSPX accept the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on religious freedom as a fundamental human right that can be known by both reason and revelation? Does the SSPX accept that the age of altar-and-throne alliances, confessional states, and legally established Catholicism is over, and that the Catholic Church rejects the use of coercive state power on behalf of its truth claims? Does the SSPX accept the Council’s teaching on Jews and Judaism as laid down in Vatican II’s “Declaration on Non-Christian Religions” (“Nostra Aetate”), and does the SSPX repudiate all anti-Semitism? Does the SSPX accept the Council’s teaching on the imperative of pursuing Christian unity in truth and the Council’s teaching that elements of truth and sanctity exist in other Christian communities, and indeed in other religious communities?

Those are the real issues. Conversation about them is always welcome. Those who confuse conversation with negotiation make genuine conversation all the more difficult.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Weigel’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Phone: 303-715-3215.

Source link.