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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sede Vacante/"While the seat is empty"

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Turkson Qualified for Pope

As I think over the background of Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson as a potential pope, it is hard not to conclude that he is quite qualified, more so than many, if not all, of the other candidates mentioned by the media. Why do I say this?

1. Pastoral experience as a bishop and seminary teacher/administrator in Africa;

2. In a way, he would also be an "American" pope since he received his seminary training in the state of New York;

3. Educated at the prestigious Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome;

4. Currently heads a Vatican entity (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) and is a member of various important Vatican bodies, including the most important one of all--the body or "congregation" in charge of doctrinal matters;

5. The media reports that he is fluent in Italian and some other major languages;

6. He has an excellent presence on camera;

7. His demeanor is joyful, gentle, and thoughtful;

8. He does not speak in dense jargon that communicates nothing to most ordinary people (I base this view on video I have seen of him giving an interview).

In a way, he is also from an English-speaking nation since English is the official language of Ghana, a former British colony. That background also makes him "American-like." So not only do you get an African pope, but you also get one who has links with American Catholics.

Moreover, his educational training in the U.S. and in Rome, as noted above, gives him the universal outlook needed for a pope.

Finally, he has been a cardinal since 2003 and participated in the 2005 conclave that selected Benedict XVI. I have found no hint of any scandals during that time.

It is also telling that having a "Pope emeritus" is a nice and providential backdrop for the daring choice of a black African pope. The emeritus Pope would be a symbol of continuity who would certainly offer prayerful support and private counsel.

Yet, most important of all, is, in my view, this consideration: another Eurocentric pope is not what the Church needs today. We have had that. We need to go beyond the tiresome agonies and angst of Europe. Ironically, the shortest route to reviving the heart of Europe may, in the end, go through Africa. Sometimes you have to take the long way home. (And, in this Eurocentric category, we can put North America which is beset with a legacy of scandal rooted in immense bureaucratic and moral dysfunction. The universal Church is better off fishing in better waters for a new pope distant from the North American implosion. Ironically, the most hopeful sign for the Church in the U.S. can be seen in the demographic changes propelled by Hispanic growth which can bring a major cultural change to the governing mentality of the Church in the U.S.--as shown by the recent rebuke by Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles of his predecessor.)

In short, I hope the cardinals are daring. There are very good, sensible grounds to justify the daring choice of Turkson. Let's see what happens!

Update: By the way, I have heard some interviewed in the media say that all of these traits are really not important--that the important thing is that the candidate remind you of Jesus. Well, listen to Turkson on video; and he meets that test too--not bombastic, not overbearing, not a clown, not boorish, but rather a calm, happy person radiating sympathy. One way to restate the "Reminds Me of Jesus" test is as follows: if the candidate reminds you of a politician, he fails the "Reminds Me of Jesus" Test.

Update: Related article by Fr. Longenecker at this link.


What a great Latin term! You can certainly translate it with the obvious English cognate (a fancy term for a related word): humanity.

Again, the dictionary gives us material for thought:

"Humane or gentle conduct towards others, humanity, philanthropy, gentleness, kindness, politeness (syn.: comitas, facilitas, mansuetudo, clementia, opp. severitas; very freq. and class.)"

From the Lewis & Short Latin Dictionary, available free on online.

Catholics love to debate how to evangelize or how to engage the culture. Humanitas.
Republicans are analyzing why they lost the last election (of course, if they had won, there would be no self-examination). Humanitas.
People want to be loved and have real friends (I do not count the virtual kind--I get the strong impression that some people with hundreds and hundreds of Facebook friends really have few or no real friends). Humanitas.

It's very easy. The dictionary entry quoted above lists some synonyms for humanitas:
comitas/friendliness, facilitas/ease, mansuetudo/gentleness, clementia/mercy or compassion. The opposite to humanitas is severitas/harshness.

You were not made for severitas--either to impose it or receive it. So try humanitas!

By the way, this exercise is one of the unspoken benefits of studying a great language: the terms from another and, better yet, ancient culture force you to think. In the end, that is the end of all study: to think about life because the most important job that you'll ever have is simply to live.

(The charming public domain image below: "The Young Cicero Reading")

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Pope as the Face and Statesman of Catholicism

When you see the speculation on the qualities of papal candidates, I am struck by the strange overemphasis on administrative management of the Vatican. A pope is not a manager; he is the face of Catholicism all over the world.

A pope can pick a manager to do just that: manage and thus free the pope for his real task of traveling, meeting, listening, and speaking. All we need is a pope who can select from a qualified pool of managers to handle administration. That should be easy to do.

In addition to being the face of Catholicism, the service of a pope also means implementing needed reforms. But that role is not the same as administrator or manager. The pope is the statesman with vision who enacts reforms--the administrator implements it.

If a prime qualification for a pope is being an administrator, then there is something fundamentally wrong with that expectation.

Friday, February 22, 2013

What You Should Do

Do Good Anyway! That is the theme of the Paradoxical Commandments penned years ago by Kent M. Keith (see link). Below is an image listing the commandments from his website.

How do I interpret these counsels? 

If you take care of your health but one of your friends smokes and engages in other self-destructive habits, should you adapt to those bad habits just to be friends? It's a no-brainer: of course not!

But we do the very same thing all of the time in other settings:

1. Everyone is hooking-up, shouldn't I?

2. My friends engage in extreme, risky, frivolous behavior. Shouldn't I?

3. Everyone seems to define success in terms of income or prestige. Shouldn't I?

4. If  I help this person, the likelihood of gratitude or genuine appreciation is slim. Just forget about them?

5. If I say or do this good thing or reach out to this person, I open myself up to possible ridicule, condescension, or even slander. Should I chicken out?

You get the message: what is healthy in you should affect the world. Don't let what is unhealthy in others keep your goodness trapped inside. They need your goodness (presented, of course, with humility, kindness, and full respect for the freedom of the other), even if they fear it or do not yet know that they need it.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Great Search for the Easy Answer

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1...
Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Here are various examples of the search for the easy answer:

1. An atheist demands to know how an all-good, all-powerful deity can tolerate suffering in the world. She finds no answer. Hence, no deity.

2. A religious believer faced with questions, deep questions, always has an answer, however superficial or unconvincing to many (and possibly even to himself). Answers are always given in some form or another. Hence, a deity, his deity created in the believer's image.

3. A person scarred by suffering rejects religious faith. She views the deity as inexplicable given the suffering that Christians believe was even imposed on the deity itself--the crucifixion.

All these cases have in common this assumption: 

1. All my questions are well-formed and make sense;

2. If there are not answers to all my questions, then faith is foreclosed.

Well, the ancient Greeks would call this mania for answers hubris. The Hebrews would say, in King James English, pride cometh before a fall.

We need to ask first: is our question really adequate to the issue?

The atheist needs to ask if suffering is the inevitable byproduct of our human identity. Can we even be human if we do not develop and grow through suffering of some form or another? If the deity wanted to foreclose the possibility of suffering, then humanity might not have been the thing to create.

The religious believer has to ask if he is ready to live with the fact highlighted by Socrates: I know that I do not know. For some deep things, there is no conclusive answer. Yes, they are mysteries. That is not a cop-out. It's just admitting the reality of the matter. You can and should inevitably puzzle and talk about mysteries, but you cannot reduce a mystery to some easy answer. You won't get there. If you claim to have gotten there, then you are likely engaging in self-delusion. And not everyone will buy what you are peddling.

The person scarred by suffering who rejects the crucified deity must ask: what would lead me or anyone else to risk great suffering? The best answer, in my view, is love. Now, we are on to something. Explore the mystery of love which defies easy categories and rational calculations. Now, you have left behind the world of easy answers and may find wisdom and insight through humility.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, February 15, 2013

African Cardinal: Hebrew, Scripture Scholar & Evangelist (Originally Published Oct. 26, 2009)

Over three years ago (Oct. 26, 2009), I posted the following, which I am republishing today:

So you know that I, like many others, will keep a close eye on him as a potential future pope. Here is the link to the recommended Whispers in the Loggia blog where you get some eye-popping, well overdue analysis by Peter Cardinal Turkson of Ghana (in West Africa) on the unfortunate reversal of priorities in too many Catholic settings: teaching faith data and forgetting about personal conversion. Here is an excerpt of an analysis that applies to too many places which fail to challenge people with personal conversion:

"The early years of the church were all based on evangelization," he added. "When the structures began to evolve and develop it became catechetical, notional -- you teach people certain things, they can repeat them, then you baptize them.

"The emphasis on the thrust of evangelization -- provoking conversion in people -- and helping people find a real relationship with a personal God -- that gradually was missed out."

Source link above (emphasis added by me).

Too many on the traditionalist end of the spectrum simply want more of the "notional" approach criticized by the Cardinal. Such an approach is a dead-end.

By the way, the Ghana Cardinal has just been named to the top Vatican post on social justice and has played a key role in the soon to be concluded Synod on Africa held in Rome, as also recently reported at the same blog (see link). Let's keep our eye on his future.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cardinal Peter Turkson for Pope

He's African, he's an expert Scripture scholar, he knows the challenges faced by the Church. Let me be blunt. There are two challenges to Catholicism: Islam, where the frontline is in Africa; and secularism in the West and elsewhere. I do not consider Christian evangelicalism a challenge--my personal view is that Christianity has no more time for intramural disputes, if it ever did. (Of course, to be accurate, I need to mention the absolutely greatest and perennial threat to Catholicism: our own internal stupidity as we periodically and sometimes spectacularly betray the teachings of the Founder.)

Turkson will strengthen all Christians in Africa. Turkson will also--by being so different--grab the attention of many in the secular and distracted West. We need to use our catholic diversity.

The cardinals guided by prayer and much more knowledge than I could ever hope to have about the Church will make the choice, not me. But, as a Catholic, duly aware of the small extent and limits of my own knowledge, you have my pence's worth. Turkson, a cardinal for about 10 years and now working in Rome, is ready, fit, and able for this conclave and for future ones.

(Image via Wikipedia)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Resigns in Latin

"Dear Brothers,
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.
"Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer."
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013


Latin Text:
Fratres carissimi Non solum propter tres canonizationes ad hoc Consistorium vos convocavi, sed etiam ut vobis decisionem magni momenti pro Ecclesiae vita communicem. Conscientia mea iterum atque iterum coram Deo explorata ad cognitionem certam perveni vires meas ingravescente aetate non iam aptas esse ad munus Petrinum aeque administrandum. Bene conscius sum hoc munus secundum suam essentiam spiritualem non solum agendo et loquendo exsequi debere, sed non minus patiendo et orando. Attamen in mundo nostri temporis rapidis mutationibus subiecto et quaestionibus magni ponderis pro vita fidei perturbato ad navem Sancti Petri gubernandam et ad annuntiandum Evangelium etiam vigor quidam corporis et animae necessarius est, qui ultimis mensibus in me modo tali minuitur, ut incapacitatem  meam ad ministerium mihi commissum bene  administrandum agnoscere debeam. Quapropter bene conscius ponderis huius actus plena libertate declaro me ministerio Episcopi Romae, Successoris Sancti Petri, mihi per manus Cardinalium die 19 aprilis MMV commissum renuntiare  ita ut a die 28 februarii MMXIII, hora 20, sedes Romae, sedes Sancti Petri vacet et Conclave  ad eligendum novum Summum Pontificem ab his quibus competit convocandum esse. Fratres carissimi, ex toto corde gratias ago vobis pro omni amore et labore, quo mecum pondus ministerii mei portastis et veniam peto pro omnibus defectibus meis. Nunc autem Sanctam Dei Ecclesiam curae Summi eius Pastoris, Domini nostri Iesu Christi confidimus sanctamque eius Matrem Mariam imploramus, ut patribus Cardinalibus in eligendo novo Summo Pontifice materna sua bonitate assistat. Quod ad me attinet etiam in futuro vita orationi dedicata Sanctae Ecclesiae Dei toto ex corde servire velim. Ex Aedibus Vaticanis, die 10 mensis februarii MMXIII  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"The Unconquerable Human Spirit"

That's the phrase Great Courses professor Rufus Fears (who passed away recently in 2012) likes to use as he lectures on the Great Books. I have heard thus far his talks on Seneca, John the Evangelist, Boethius, and Dostoevsky. While I can quibble with some of his broad generalizations, I think his talks are worth listening to for most of us.

Yet, I find amazing his neglect of Don Quixote, given the theme of the unconquerable human spirit. Nevertheless, Prof. Fears leaves us a great legacy by reminding us that great literature, like great philosophy and theology, is about the wisdom of living in the face of the great and sometimes horrifying challenges and tragedies that human beings face. His talks so far demonstrate a call to courage that it is good for all to hear--because none of us is or will be exempt from the challenge of suffering in this world.

His talks also serve to challenge us to read those great books we have postponed reading for too long or to reread them now with the wisdom of our older selves.

Great Courses link:

(Image of Boethius in public domain)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


In the local library, I picked up, with no great expectations, as a sort of afterthought, a self-help CD set by a psychotherapist from Harvard Business School who assists students with career development. (Aside: privileged elites take no chances and go to great lengths to ensure their own success!)

The theme of the talks was that the experience of impasse or hitting a dead end in one's career is a great opportunity for self-examination and renewed empowerment as we step up to another level in our lives. The experience of impasse as full of uncertainty and even darkness reminded me of St. John of the Cross and his dark night of the soul.

The value of the CD was not in its originality--it was not original, but rather in its reminding me of what we have all heard often: in crisis there is opportunity. So rather than let the experience of impasse frighten us, we should embrace it for the wisdom and vistas it offers. We should look for the silver lining. Through darkness comes a new light. We may have to leave our current well-lit room in order to find the next and better room. In between the rooms, there can be a lack of light as we are in transit.

So next time you feel that your are in an impasse in some aspect of your life, consider approaching it with a measure of the promise that is potentially hidden in the experience.

(Image in public domain)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Applauding Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles

Apparently, he might have made history as the first bishop to reprimand another bishop. Gomez publicly reprimanded former L.A. Archbishop Mahoney for years of mishandling sex abuse allegations. The reprimand took the form, as I understand it, of removing Mahoney from any administrative duties in the nation's largest diocese.

The reprimand puts both ideologically liberal Catholics and ideologically conservative Catholics in an odd position. "Liberals" decry the mishandling of the sex abuse crisis by the hierarchy, but Mahoney is one of their favorites. "Conservatives" never liked Mahoney, but generally do not like to see such strong acceptance of the immense gravity of these scandals by the hierarchy. Of course, I am making generalizations; but I do so because I think there is some truth to them.

Well, let the ideologues be in odd positions because the truth is that the Gospel is neither ideologically liberal nor ideologically conservative.

Congratulations to Archbishop Gomez for following the Gospel!

Friday, February 1, 2013

The End of Whining on a Cold Day

Where I live, the weather is painfully frigid. I was complaining to myself  as I drove to fill up with gas. Then, I checked myself: hey, I have a car. If I had to ride the bus in this weather, then I really would have grounds for complaint.

Then, I was really, really and definitively, put in my place. As I finished getting gas in the frigid weather, I saw a middle-aged lady holding two bags full of miscellaneous groceries coming out of the gas station convenience store. She was dressed like a white-collar office worker, no coat. She was lurching very slowly using two crutches---the kind where you grab a pole-like handle with each hand and nestle the metal rest against the back of your arm and elbow.

She continued to lurch forward very slowly to her car. I was struck by her challenge in the cold weather while holding two plastic bags containing various items and hanging down from one hand. I offered to help. She, very kindly and good-naturedly, said that she did not have far to go (she was being optimistic). I stayed in my car to make sure that she made it. She did make it, with some difficulty but yet quite effective, in the end, in her own, well-practiced way. Character. 

Res ipsa loquitur. The matter speaks for itself.  I have been shamed out of my winter whining. The human spirit is amazing.