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

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hoy Fiesta de San Ignacio Loyola


Vatican City, 31 July 2013 (VIS) – The Pope celebrated Mass at 8.00 a.m. today, the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, the order to which he belongs, with Jesuits in the Roman Church of Jesus, where the saint's reliquaries are preserved.

It was a private, like the Mass celebrated each day at the Santa Marta guesthouse, attended only by priests of the Society of Jesus, friends, and collaborators. However, the Pope was received by hundreds of people who wished to greet him and who waited until the end of the celebration to do so.

Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Superior General of the Jesuits, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, concelebrated with the Pope, as well as members of the Council and more than two hundred Jesuits.

In this homily, the Pope proposed a reflection based on three concepts: putting Christ at the centre of the Church, allowing oneself to be conquered by Him to serve; and feeling the shame of our limits and sins in order to be humble before Him and before our brothers.

“The symbol of the Jesuits is a monogram, the acronym of 'Iesus Hominum Salvator'”, said Francis. “It reminds us constantly of a fact we must never forget: the centrality of Christ for each one of us, and for the entire Society, that St. Ignatius chose to call 'the Society ofJesus' to indicate its point of reference. … And this leads us, Jesuits, to be 'decentred', to have 'Deus semper maior' before us … Christ is our life! The centrality of Christ also corresponds to the centrality of the Church: they are two flames that cannot be separated. I cannot follow Christ other than in the Church and with the Church. And also in this case, we Jesuits and the entire Society are not in the centre; we are, so to say, removed; we are in the service of Christ and of the Church. … To be men rooted and grounded in the Church: this is what Jesus wants. We cannot walk in parallel or in isolation. Yes, there are paths of research, creative paths, yes: this is important; to go out to the peripheries … but always in community, in the Church, with this belonging that gives us the courage to go ahead”.

The path to live this dual centrality is found in “letting oneself be conquered by Christ. I seek Jesus, I serve Jesus because he sought me first. … In Spanish there is a very descriptive phrase, which explains this well: 'El nos primerea', He is always first before us. … To be conquered by Christ to offer to this King our entire person, all our effort … to imitate Him also in withstanding injustice, contempt, poverty”. The Pope recalled the Jesuit Fr. Paolo dall'Oglio, missing in Syria for days, and added “being conquered by Christ means forever striving to reach what is before you, to reach Christ”.

Francis also recalled Jesus' words in the Gospel: “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. Those who are ashamed of me … will be ashamed when He comes in His glory” and compares this with the shame of the Jesuits. “Jesus invites us not to be ashamed of Him, but to follow Him for ever with total dedication, trusting in and entrusting ourselves to Him”.

“Looking to Jesus, as St. Ignatius teaches us in the First Week, and especially looking at Christ crucified, we feel that sentiment, so human and so noble, that is the shame of not being able to measure up; … and this leads us always, as individuals and as a Society, to humility, to living this great virtue. Humility makes us aware every day that it is not we who build the Kingdom of God, but rather it is always the grace of the Lord that acts in us; humility that urges us to give ourselves not in service to ourselves or our ideas, but in the service of Christ and the Church, like clay vases – fragile, inadequate, insufficient, but inside which there is an immense treasure we carry and communicate.

The Pope confessed that when he thinks of the twilight of a Jesuit's life, “when a Jesuit finishes his life”, two icons always come to mind: that of St. Francis Xavier looking to China, and that of Father Arrupe in his final conversation at the refugee camp. “It benefits us to look at these two icons, to return to them, and to ask that our twilight be like theirs”.

Finally, Francis encouraged those present to ask the Virgin “to let us feel the shame of our inadequacy before the treasure that has been entrusted to us, to live in humility before the Lord. May the paternal intercession of St. Ignatius accompany our path and that of all holy Jesuits, who continue to teach us to do everything with humility, ad maiorem Dei gloriam”.

(Image in public domain)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Don't Deny the Obvious

The Catholic News Service quotes Cardinal Dolan of New York as follows (my emphasis added):

Pope's remark on gays does not change church teaching, cardinal says

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, a July 30 guest on "CBS This Morning" to discuss the pope's impromptu news conference on a papal flight the previous day, stressed that Pope Francis "would be the first to say, my job isn't to change church teaching; my job is to present it as clearly as possible." Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was asked to comment in particular on the pope's remark: "If a person is gay, seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge? They should not be marginalized. They are our brothers." That remark, the cardinal said, reflects "a gentle, merciful, understanding, compassionate" approach to church teaching which emphasizes "that while certain acts may be wrong, we would always love and respect the person and treat the person with dignity." He said the pope's words "may be something people find new and refreshing. I for one don't think it is and I hate to see previous popes caricatured as not having that."

Blogger comment on the portion in bold print: Of course, it's new and refreshing. Pope Francis has the gift of communicating in that way. And it is very different from his recent predecessors--and a vast improvement. Being better at communicating does not denigrate anyone else--everyone has his own particular strengths and worth. Celebrate it! (See also this link.)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Why Classical Studies

I highly recommend Richard Rutherford's Classical Literature: A Concise History (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005). Here are some excerpts:

Classical studies are sometimes dismissed as anachronistic or irrelevant--a strange complaint, when the pages of these writers engage constantly with themes of life and death, pain and joy, disaster and survival, war, aggression and imperialism, ambitions achieved and ideals corrupted, self-discipline and self-sacrifice, political success and rejection of the world, freedom of speech and oppression of thought.

. . . .

To reject the past is to abandon all prospect of understanding what has shaped our own present and therefore what we are. To ignore the literature of the past is to deny ourselves--to lose some of what gives meaning and value to our lives. The literature of the classical world is not the whole of the past, but it does form an important part of it.

Rutherford, p. 296.

(Image under Creative Commons License)

Sorry, Inside Vatican Baseball: Sandro Magister and Dan Brown

It is hard to believe that Italian journalist Sandro Magister is often referred to as a respected Vatican expert.

Before the recent papal conclave, Magister absurdly predicted that Cardinal Dolan of New York would be the next pope (with, of course, the usual journalistic hedging). I guess the respected expert with insider connections got a pass on that failed connection.

Now, he presents a conspiratorial tale, worthy of Dan Brown, in which the "gay lobby" at the Vatican covered up the past homosexual sins (apparently from 2001) of a recent papal appointee to the Vatican Bank.

I have trouble following the conspiracy theory of Magister. It is unclear if the "gay lobby" wanted to set up the Pope for embarrassment by initially covering up the scandal and then tactically disclosing the scandalous past of the appointee once the appointment was announced, or whether the "gay lobby" wanted to protect the appointee in perpetuity in his new post.

Or if the "lobby" simply wanted another person in a high post subject to future threats of blackmail. It is all very confusing. Maybe, something was lost in translation.

Well, the Pope has taken the high road. There was an investigation of the appointee's fitness for office that apparently cleared the appointee to continue in his post. The Pope rules out future attempts to blackmail appointees by stating that genuine repentance from past sin clears the slate for an appointee--sounds very consistent with the Gospel.

So if some cabal or lobby wanted to embarass the Pope now or wants to do so in the future, Francis has now responded with Christian common sense: repentance clears the slate. Blackmail won't work in cases of genuine penance. In addition, the message to those with troubled pasts is to come clean, 'fess up, and not let themselves be subject to the continuing fear of blackmail.

Here is the refreshing approach of the Pope: face the problem, discuss it openly, and close the matter. Apply the Gospel. And then expeditiously move on with important work.

In addition to these Dan Brown theories, Magister is now also painting a picture of papal hostility to the old form of the Latin Mass because of administrative decisons concerning one religious order (which appears to number only a miniscule 130 members!). Again, the latest Magister story has the smell of hysteria and exaggeration on his part.

In plain English, this journalist seems to be very wound up and sensationalistic and comes across--in English translation at least--as a crank. He doesn't come across as having any magisterial gravitas at all (pun intended).

Lesson: beware of Vatican experts, even when called "respected."

In any event, you can find much better Vatican coverage from Andrea Tornielli and others at Vatican Insider at this link:

(Image of Chicken Little in public domain)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Best WYD Coverage: Whispers in the Loggia Blog

During these days of seeking out coverage of World Youth Day 2013 in Brazil, it is clear that this blog's award for best coverage must go to Rocco Palmo's Whispers in the Loggia Blog at

On another note, the coverage by the New York Times has, inexplicably, been missing in action. The Washington Post and L.A. Times have done much, much better.

Update: For best analysis, John Thavis takes the prize again with insight and with maturity and breadth of judgment:

(Image below is emblem of Palmo's blog)

In the Nooks and Crannies of the Street

Labin4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
"We cannot keep ourselves shut up in parishes, in our communities, when so many people are waiting for the Gospel! It is not enough simply to open the door in welcome, but we must go out through that door to seek and meet the people! Let us courageously look to pastoral needs, beginning on the outskirts, with those who are farthest away, with those who do not usually go to church. They are the V.I.P.s invited to the table of the Lord... go and look for them in the nooks and crannies of the streets."

Francis, July 27, 2013 (emphasis added)

(Source link:

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Speaking of Translation . . .

I have seen the U.S. press mistranslate the Pope's remarks to Argentine youth gathered in Brazil so that he ends up saying that he wants them to make a "mess" in their home dioceses.

Well, very bad translation. It doesn't give the sense of the Spanish. Here is the original Spanish followed by my sense-for-sense translation:

"Hagan lío. Quiero lío en sus diócesis. No se queden encerrados en sus comunidades. Quiero que la Iglesia salga a la calle. Quiero que nos defendamos de todo lo que es mundanidad, comodidad, clericalismo, de lo que es estar encerrados en nosotros mismos."

"Shake things up. I want you to shake things up in your dioceses. Do not remain closed up inside your own communities. I want the Church out in the street. I want us to pull away from everything that is wordliness, from convenience, from clericalism, from being shut up within ourselves."

(Image under Fair Use Doctrine)

In Our Deepest Sufferings, He Is There

Courtesy again of Whispers in the Loggia Blog (visit it!), here are Francis' brief and profound words at the Way of the Cross in Brazil (I was going to write "brief but profound" but realized that the two adjectives are accomplices):

[Emphasis added]

Dear Young Friends,

We have come here today to accompany Jesus on his journey of sorrow and love, the Way of the Cross, which is one of the most intense moments of World Youth Day. At the end of the Holy Year of Redemption, Blessed John Paul II chose to entrust the Cross to you, young people, asking you “to carry it throughout the world as a symbol of Christ’s love for humanity, and announce to everyone that only in the death and resurrection of Christ can we find salvation and redemption” (Address to Young People, 22 April 1984). Since then, the World Youth Day Cross has travelled to every continent and through a variety of human situations. It is, as it were, almost “steeped” in the life experiences of the countless young people who have seen it and carried it. No one can approach and touch the Cross of Jesus without leaving something of himself or herself there, and without bringing something of the Cross of Jesus into his or her own life. I have three questions that I hope will echo in your hearts this evening as you walk beside Jesus: What have you left on the Cross, dear young people of Brazil, during these two years that it has been crisscrossing your great country? What has the Cross of Jesus left for you, in each one of you? Finally, what does this Cross teach us?

1. According to an ancient Roman tradition, while fleeing the city during the persecutions of Nero, Saint Peter saw Jesus who was travelling in the opposite direction, that is, toward the city, and asked him in amazement: “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus’ response was: “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” At that moment, Peter understood that he had to follow the Lord with courage, to the very end. But he also realized that he would never be alone on the journey; Jesus, who had loved him even unto death on the Cross, would always be with him. Jesus, with his Cross, walks with us and takes upon himself our fears, our problems, and our sufferings, even those which are deepest and most painful. With the Cross, Jesus unites himself to the silence of the victims of violence, those who can no longer cry out, especially the innocent and the defenceless; with the Cross, he is united to families in trouble, those who mourn the loss of their children, or who suffer when they see them fall victim to false paradises, such as that offered by drugs. On the Cross, Jesus is united with every person who suffers from hunger in a world where tons of food are thrown out each day; on the Cross, Jesus is united with those who are persecuted for their religion, for their beliefs or simply for the colour of their skin; on the Cross, Jesus is united with so many young people who have lost faith in political institutions, because they see in them only selfishness and corruption; he unites himself with those young people who have lost faith in the Church, or even in God because of the counter-witness of Christians and ministers of the Gospel. The Cross of Christ bears the suffering and the sin of mankind, including our own. Jesus accepts all this with open arms, bearing on his shoulders our crosses and saying to us: “Have courage! You do not carry your cross alone! I carry it with you. I have overcome death and I have come to give you hope, to give you life” (cf. Jn 3:16).

2. And so we can answer the second question: What has the Cross given to those who have gazed upon it or touched it? What has it left in each one of us? It gives us a treasure that no one else can give: the certainty of the unshakable love which God has for us. A love so great that it enters into our sin and forgives it, enters into our suffering and gives us the strength to bear it. It is a love which enters into death to conquer it and to save us. The Cross of Christ contains all the love of God, his immeasurable mercy.

This is a love in which we can place all our trust, in which we can believe. Dear young people, let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, let us give ourselves over entirely to him (cf. Lumen Fidei, 16)! Only in Christ crucified and risen can we find salvation and redemption. With him, evil, suffering, and death do not have the last word, because he gives us hope and life: he has transformed the Cross from an instrument of hate, defeat and death into a sign of love, victory and life.

The first name given to Brazil was “The Land of the Holy Cross”. The Cross of Christ was planted five centuries ago not only on the shores of this country, but also in the history, the hearts and the lives of the people of Brazil and elsewhere. The suffering Christ is keenly felt here, as one of us who shares our journey even to the end. There is no cross, big or small, in our life which the Lord does not share with us.

3. But the Cross of Christ invites us also to allow ourselves to be smitten by his love, teaching us always to always look upon others with mercy and tenderness, especially those who suffer, who are in need of help, who need a word or a concrete action which requires us to step outside ourselves to meet them and to extend a hand to them. How many people were with Jesus on the way to Calvary: Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Mary, the women.... Sometimes we can be like Pilate, who did not have the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus’ life, and instead washed his hands. Dear friends, the Cross of Christ teaches us to be like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry that heavy wood; it teaches us to be like Mary and the other women, who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness. And you? Who are you like? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary?

Dear friends, let us bring to Christ’s Cross our joys, our sufferings and our failures. There we will find a Heart that is open to us and understands us, forgives us, loves us and calls us to bear this love in our lives, to love each person, each brother and sister, with the same love. Amen!

(Crucifix associated with the Jesuit Francis Xavier in public domain)

Tweeking an Old Saying

The old saying is: "A penny saved is a penny earned." It suits our money-obsessed American culture by masking avarice with the admired practical virtue of thrift--a typical cultural substitution of means for an end.

I have a better saying: "Personal honor saved is happiness earned." (In Latin, "Pudor salvatus, Felicitas merita.")

My saying turns the scale of values upside down: honor comes first, money is far down the list.

By honor, I mean personal dignity and a sense of shame. In both Spanish and Latin, this type of honor is called "pudor."

This sharp comparison tells us the difference between the two sayings:

Take away someone's tax deduction or even just scratch their car in a parking lot, and they will howl in indignation.

But, say, take away the honor or pudor of their daughter or sister; and no one notices. Not even a whimper.

(Image in public domain)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Our Tears for Galicia in Rail Accident

The train accident has taken at least 80 lives and injured many others. Our hearts break for this tragedy which happened on the eve of today's Feast of St. James, patron of Galicia and of the rest of Spain.

(Image of the coat of arms of Galicia, Spain, under GNU license)

Francis To Our Brothers in a Brazilian Slum

From the Whispers in the Loggia Blog (visit it!):

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is wonderful to be here with you! From the start, my wish in planning this visit to Brazil was to be able to visit every district throughout the nation. I would have liked to knock on every door, to say “good morning”, to ask for a glass of cold water, to take a cafezinho, to speak as one would to family friends, to listen to each person pouring out his or her heart – parents, children, grandparents ... But Brazil is so vast! It is impossible to knock on every door! So I chose to come here, to visit your community, which today stands for every district in Brazil. How wonderful it is to be welcomed with such love, generosity, and joy! One need only look at the way you have decorated the streets of the community; this is a further mark of affection, it comes from your heart, from the heart of all Brazilians in festive mood. Many thanks to each of you for this kind welcome! And I thank Archbishop Orani Tempesta as well as Rangler and Joana for their kind words.

1. From the moment I first set foot on Brazilian soil, right up to this meeting here with you, I have been made to feel welcome. And it is important to be able to make people welcome; this is something even more beautiful than any kind of ornament or decoration. I say this because when we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them – some food, a place in our homes, our time – not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched. I am well aware that when someone needing food knocks at your door, you always find a way of sharing food; as the proverb says, one can always “add more water to the beans”! And you do so with love, demonstrating that true riches consist not in material things, but in the heart!

And the Brazilian people, particularly the humblest among you, can offer the world a valuable lesson in solidarity, a word that is too often forgotten or silenced, because it is uncomfortable. I would like to make an appeal to those in possession of greater resources, to public authorities and to all people of good will who are working for social justice: never tire of working for a more just world, marked by greater solidarity! No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world! Everybody, according to his or her particular opportunities and responsibilities, should be able to make a personal contribution to putting an end to so many social injustices. The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so, seeing others not as rivals or statistics, but brothers and sisters.

I would like to encourage the efforts that Brazilian society is making to integrate all its members, including those who suffer most and are in greatest need, through the fight against hunger and deprivation. No amount of “peace-building” will be able to last, nor will harmony and happiness be attained in a society that ignores, pushes to the margins or excludes a part of itself. A society of that kind simply impoverishes itself, it loses something essential. Let us always remember this: only when we are able to share do we become truly rich; everything that is shared is multiplied! The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty!

2. I would also like to tell you that the Church, the “advocate of justice and defender of the poor in the face of intolerable social and economic inequalities which cry to heaven” (Aparecida Document, 395), wishes to offer her support for every initiative that can signify genuine development for every person and for the whole person. Dear friends, it is certainly necessary to give bread to the hungry – this is an act of justice. But there is also a deeper hunger, the hunger for a happiness that only God can satisfy. There is neither real promotion of the common good nor real human development when there is ignorance of the fundamental pillars that govern a nation, its non-material goods: life, which is a gift of God, a value always to be protected and promoted; the family, the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation; integral education, which cannot be reduced to the mere transmission of information for purposes of generating profit; health, which must seek the integral well-being of the person, including the spiritual dimension, essential for human balance and healthy coexistence; security, in the conviction that violence can be overcome only by changing human hearts.

I would like to add one final point. Here, as in the whole of Brazil, there are many young people. Dear young friends, you have a particular sensitivity towards injustice, but you are often disappointed by facts that speak of corruption on the part of people who put their own interests before the common good. To you and to all, I repeat: never yield to discouragement, do not lose trust, do not allow your hope to be extinguished. Situations can change, people can change. Be the first to seek to bring good, do not grow accustomed to evil, but defeat it. The Church is with you, bringing you the precious good of faith, bringing Jesus Christ, who “came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

Today, to all of you, especially to the residents of this Community of Varginha, I say: you are not alone, the Church is with you, the Pope is with you. I carry each of you in my heart and I make my own the intentions that you carry deep within you: thanksgiving for joys, pleas for help in times of difficulty, a desire for consolation in times of grief and suffering. I entrust all this to the intercession of Our Lady of Aparecida, Mother of all the poor of Brazil, and with great affection I impart my blessing.

Blogger Comment:

God has blessed Francis with an affectionate, warm personality. That natural gift from God has been supernaturally bolstered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Why then do so many who parade as more Catholic than the Pope seem to have such cold and even, at times, repellant personalities specializing in patronizing sarcasm and arrogant condescension? Could it be that they have not really met the One who is the Good News? I dare to answer: "yes." You will know them by their fruits.

(Image under Fair Use Doctrine)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thinking About Translation

The old cliche is that, if the original is in color, then the translation must be in black and white. Yet, translation is unavoidable if the target audience does not know the original language or is not skilled enough in the original language. In addition, most of us who have studied a foreign language end up mentally translating most of the time--although deep immersion in reading the original language allows us to skip this step even with the so-called "dead" classical languages.

When thinking about translation, we usually struggle with the choice of literal or fluent--for "fluent," you can substitute "sense-for-sense" or "dynamic." Both Cicero and St. Jerome favored sense-for-sense translations. How can we avoid this frustrating dichotomy? Let's see.

1. What is the purpose of your translation? Your target audience? If your purpose is to teach the grammar of the language, then literal is better. If you are targeting the general reader, then sense or dynamic translation is the way to go.

2. Yet, even when you choose to go for the fluent or more dynamic translation, you still have the issues: how fluent? how literal?

Classicist Sarah Ruden, in a foreword to her translation of the Aeneid, gives these recommendations:

1. Favor simple English words over Latinate words (e.g. use "hard" over "difficult");

2. Yet, also try to reflect the mind of the author by seeking to communicate the style of the author. Well, to communicate style, you have to give a sense of the grammatical structure in the foreign language. Hence, you end up with a more literal approach even within an overall fluent translation project.

I like Ruden's common sense suggestions. As a result, I phrase my own developing translation philosophy as follows. (I refer to Latin since that is the language I translate the most in my own work.)

A fluent translation should aim to use effective English idioms and words, as opposed to overusing Latin cognates or slavishly imitating certain idioms. In Latin translations, this approach means splitting overly long sentences, making some passive or impersonal Latin constructions active or inserting a personal subject, or transforming participial clauses into simple, independent sentences.

At the same time, there is another cliche--albeit a true one: that in classics, and in the humanities in general, we are trying to communicate to the reader the otherness of another culture and time. So we cannot always use vocabulary that is simply ordinary English. For example, for the Roman army, unit standards, as ways to gather different formations of soldiers, are just that, standards, an ancient tool of warfare that we no longer use. We need to keep this word to reflect the cultural difference we see, for example, in Caesar's Gallic War. (I can't use "flags" for "standards" because the Romans distinguished between standards and flags.)

Likewise, the translator may justifiably choose to keep a Latin idiom that sounds awkard in English to give the reader the flavor of the original style. I think of the Latin idiom for banishing someone: "to cut them off from fire and water." I am tempted to translate the idiom literally and add a footnote for the reader so the reader gets the archaic sense of this Roman punishment. I also think of Cicero's famously long sentences. Does a Cicero translation that sounds like Ernest Hemingway do justice to Cicero?

As in most of life, translation, as you can see, is a balancing act, an art, based on judgement. Being aware of the choices and the issues helps us make a more informed and fruitful judgement. My current view is that a desirable translation in almost all cases is a fluent or dynamic translation giving us the sense of the Latin in English, but it also has to give us a sense of the otherness of an ancient culture and a sense of the style of the original text. It's a tall order.

(Image of St. Jerome the translator in public domain)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

El Hombre Original del Pueblo

Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto, 1266/67-1337 (public domain).

Luke 19:39-40
Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition (DRA)
39 And some of the Pharisees, from amongst the multitude, said to him: Master, rebuke thy disciples.
40 To whom he said: I say to you, that if these shall hold their peace, the stones will cry out.
(Source link)

Winters at NCR Online Captures the Francis Moment

Here is the link to his discussion of Francis and Springtime:

With more writers like Michael Winters, I think the National Catholic Reporter will attract readers from a wider spectrum of Catholics. To my surprise, I find myself turning more and more to NCR online to get cogent, balanced, and sane commentary on events.

(Image of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, under Creative Commons License)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Miami Noon Sunday

I go to Mass in Spanish in a working-class Miami neighborhood on the edge of booming downtown Miami, with its crowded line of attractive skycrapers rising in the background.The neighborhood is Little Havana--but based on my conversations and observations, there is now a robust Nicaraguan presence in addition to the original Cuban infusion. The Nicaraguan consulate is across the street from the church. The city of Miami is still dynamic and growing.

It is very hot outside, as usual. I have returned to St. John Bosco Catholic Church, which I recalled from childhood visits as a very plain, unimpressive, box-like, purely functional building in a poor neighborhood, more like a warehouse than a traditional church.

Look at the image below and see the transformation that took place two years ago so that now we have a massive structure in a very traditional style crowned with a dome.

The noon Mass was standing-room only. The pews were tightly packed. The servers were impressive in their traditional black-and-white garb. As Mass is about to begin, everyone turns around to focus on the entering procession.There was plenty of incense. Take a look at the interior of the church below with its traditional altarpiece (the photo was taken well before Mass started so it does not reflect the standing-room crowd that would soon arrive).

The music was loud and enthusiastic, as was the singing. The preaching was strong and in the language of ordinary folk. The congregation was receptive to the quips of the priest and clapped at the end of the homily.

The Mass was especially focused on children, with a small statue of the infant Jesus in clear view of all--and there were plenty of children present. There was a special blessing for children.

The church ushers were wearing special maroon dress shirts with embroidered insignia.The blessing with water of the congregation was so robust that the clerics peforming the blessing were followed by ushers with mops.

What any objective observer or sociologist of religion saw was this reality: a crowded and booming religion. It was not a Pentecostal congregation or a Muslim gathering. It was Roman Catholic. But, let me be clear, in Hispanic Catholicism, the pentecostal with a small "p" is always present in the sense that there is a natural cultural ebullience and atmosphere of celebration that come with Catholicism and are not add-ons or extras that need a special charismatic label, as you often find among non-Hispanic U.S. Catholics.

After Mass, I walked around the parking lot and "campus" of the church--there was a Goodwill-style flea market selling used clothing, there was a place to eat, there seemed to be a shelter or refuge of sorts for those in need. A special collection had been taken during the Mass to help support a non-profit program for rehabilitating drug addicts.

Then, I saw the sign for the "capilla" or chapel and went up the steps to the chapel at the rear of the church. The chapel was adjacent to the apse of the church. The tabernacle in the chapel was located right behind the location of the church's tabernacle. The chapel was large and also had small side rooms with high ceilings containing candles and very large statues of Jesus and the Virgin, with actual fabric robes on the statues, as I had last seen on a recent trip to Spain.

I was amazed at the vigor of this church. There is another boom in Miami, in addition to the building boom. For more photos, see the church website at this link.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Nostalgia: Joy, Gratitude, Wonder

Not long ago, I quoted some words from Pope Francis on the value of nostalgia as a way to reencounter our past (see link). I also recall a recent article in the New York Times emphasizing the beneficial psychological effects of nostalgia.

Now, as I find myself on a short trip to Miami and Miami Beach to revisit the past sites of my family vacations, I can say a few more things about the value of nostalgia.

As a Cuban-American, I obviously relish the atmosphere in Miami--the vivacity of loquacious, impatient Cubans, the food of my childhood. To reencounter that dimension is to reaffirm an important part of myself. Many other cultures, of course, have that joy of living (joie de vivre); but it is good to experience it as part of one's own culture. Joy is a response to life that is not self-evident to many. When a culture exhibits that joy as a perennial response to living, I have to be thankful.

Food is part of culture. We relive the food that we enjoyed as children. The nostalgia of those experiences gives food a powerful spiritual dimension. For Christians who recall their founder in a meal, this dimension is not surprising. To eat is to remember. What do we gain from that remembering? We gain, as we grow older, the certainty that we have experienced the goodness of life. We go forward in gratitude.

So, nostalgia gives us joy and gratitude as stances toward life as we grow older. Nostalgia also gives us that slightly sad awareness of the passing of all things. Physical locations and places change or even disappear altogether. A new generation follows. Life keeps renewing itself. There is a slight sadness because we have lost something we had--yet there is comfort that life is always rising up again and keeps on going. In a sense, what we experienced is not really lost--it is just that the dramatis personae, the characters of the drama of life, have changed. Those who were younger now are playing the role of elders.

In nostalgia, there is wisdom: things pass away but also continue in some way. The passing of time is constitutive of our human identity. We are by nature living through time. Nostalgia gives us a deep reverence for the past and amazement that the wheel of life keeps turning as new actors take on the old roles. With nostalgia, we get joy, gratitude, and, finally, wonder.

(Photo by blogger; Cuban-Americans gather for espresso coffee and conversation at Versailles Restaurant's famous "walk-through" coffee-serving window in Miami)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Losing to Win

News of Detroit's bankruptcy filing (no surprise to anyone breathing in the last ten years) reminds me of what a neighbor once told me: you have to go down before going up. He was referring to a local community (not Detroit) that had to face up to its social problems before making any progress in dealing with them.

We see this path of going down before going up in both communities and individuals finally facing longstanding problems after years of ignoring them. I think of friends who have found a turning point in their lives after getting a DUI and finally facing up to some very personally challenging issues.

In defeat and loss, we often finally come face to face with reality and are able to take concrete action to improve our circumstances. Detroit is finally taking that path. There is an old lesson in that for all of us: whoever loses his life will save it; whoever seeks to save appearances at all costs, even to the point of denial and self-deception, will lose his life.

(Seal of Detroit in public domain; Latin mottoes: "We hope for better things; she will rise again from the ashes")

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

When the Devout are Not Christian At All

It's not so rare. You see people who are "devout" in terms of all sorts of religious practices, then they surprise you by being so utterly lacking in common decency, humility, and compassion.

What that means is that you can have all the external practices and more, with all of the rigor of the most rigorous, and, when all is said and done, not be the real thing.

In fact, all the external practices may be just what they need for reasons that have nothing to do with genuine conversion, with compassion, or with imitating Jesus. There is no security for them or for us in the externals. Don't rely to your detriment on the externals.

The real thing is always distinguished by humility and compassion. Even the hint of self-righteousness is a big, big red flag of danger and a warning to stay away.

(Image of Good Samaritan by Morot in public domain)

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What We Are Seeing is Historic

Before the selection of Pope Francis, I sensed an exhaustion in the Church, although I never imagined that it extended in a literal sense to the personal health of Benedict XVI. The exhaustion I sensed was rooted in the "self-enclosed" mentality of so many of my fellow Catholics:

1. A combative overemphasis on conflict over finding common ground;

2. A hypernomianism--an overemphasis on rules, liturgical and otherwise, as a reaction to the chaos of previous decades;

3. A deemphasis on the Church's fundamental Gospel orientation to the poor and marginalized.

The Gospels always point to the opposite:

1. Dialogue with all inviting all;

2. Mercy and compassion over legalism and rigorism;

3. A special regard for the poor and marginalized in contrast to religious elites.

The selection of Francis illuminated what I--and probably many others--also perceived. And Francis has given us the vocabulary to describe what we perceived but could not articulate.

(Image under Fair Use Doctrine)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

An Archbishop Speaks

"I would never deny that Mexican and Hispanic culture are different. A continental European perspective shapes the Hispanic sense of law and government, which is definitely different from the Anglo-Saxon ideas of America’s founders. There is also a different “sense of life” that comes from Hispanic culture. But Huntington [the late and misguided Harvard professor] would have us see these cultural differences as evidence of cultural deficiency and inferiority. In this, he makes the mistake we have seen too often in American history – the mistaking of assuming European white racial superiority. Sad to say that in our immigration debates today, we often hear ideas like Huntington’s being repeated on cable television, talk radio, and Internet blogs, and even by some of our political leaders."

----Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles (quoted by M.S. Winters at this link).

By the way, what the Archbishop points out is that Hispanic culture is indeed European in origin; but, alas, it seems that, for many, a common culture is not enough--you also have to have a certain skin tone.

(Below is the public domain image of the seal of the city founded by Hispanics in 1781 as "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula"; one of the heraldic quadrants reflects Mexico at lower left, one reflects Spain at lower right.)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Personality Counts--for Individuals and Institutions

There are many very intelligent and skilled individuals. There are many fine educational institutions. But there can be, and there is, more. It's something called personality. Without personality, a skilled individual becomes a drag to be avoided. Without personality, an institution becomes a burden to flee.

But, what is personality? Well, I mean a desirable personality: not arrogant, but humble; not cold, but warm; not judgmental or hypercritical, but encouraging and relentlessly positive; not closed in, but open to others.

Life is short. Do not be surprised if those of us who profoundly realize that want more than mere skill and are not impressed by mere skill or prestige when it comes to either individuals or institutions. Do not be surprised that wisdom teaches that, where there is no desirable personality, one should look for other pastures, personally and professionally. Some people claim to look for substance over style. In the best, the substance and the style merge. In the best, style does not mislead because it reflects a substance that does not disappoint.

(Images, left to right, of FDR and philosopher José Ortega y Gasset are in public domain; image of Francis under Creative Commons License)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Egyptian Turnabout

Who knows what will happen next in Egypt? But the exit of the Muslim Brotherhood from power would be a good thing, especially for Coptic Egyptian Christians suffering under persecution. Let us hope that this turn of events means that an Egypt open to genuine religious freedom and to the best of modernity will emerge and redeem the promise of a very ancient land for all its inhabitants of whatever religion.

(Image in public domain)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Extend the Hand

"Crossing the threshold of the faith leads us to forgiving and to know how to break into a smile. It means approaching every person who lives on the edge of existence and to call him by name. It is taking care of the fragility of the weakest and supports his trembling knees in the certainty that in what we do for the smallest of our brothers it is to Jesus himself that we are doing it (Mt. 25. 40)."

Pope Francis, writing as a cardinal in 2012. Source:  .