For reasons of health  and advanced age, Pope Benedict XVI will resign on February 28, 2013.

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What will they do? Will they elect a new King?

 

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And continue to close their eyes to their crimes?

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Or will they search for the light of the Holy spirit?

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And imagine a New Beginning, A New Creation?

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And what will the Church do? Because … they are not the Church; the People of God are the Church. And it’s time to stop waiting for Rome to change – or for the perfect Pope, the Council that best expresses your views, the best translation of the liturgy. Start being the Church you want the Church to be. Like the brave women and men who have recently received excommunication.

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That’s a powerful question.

You might say, like St. Paul, that you could last for a while if you knew the end was coming soon. Give up everything self-serving and focus on others. Give up worries about careers and relationships, college loans, college funds, about retirement and investments, five-year plans, ten-year plans. There would be a certain freedom in that. But what if the end wasn’t coming soon? Yours or the world’s? What then? Could you live a whole lifetime in such selfless abandon? Would Paul have chosen his lonely, missionary work, encouraging people not to marry and not to divorce, if he hadn’t believed in the immanent return of Jesus and the immediacy of the need for conversion? Or would he have settled down and married and set about developing a more long-term vision of Christian community life?

The Lenten Season is perhaps an invitation to live with a little more intensity than usual, as if indeed we were going to die with Jesus in six weeks time. What could we push ourselves to do if Jesus were asking it of us for just six weeks? Then perhaps at the end of those six weeks we can re-evaluate and consider how we might integrate something of our efforts into our long-term schedules.

What can I do, you ask?

Offer to read aloud to small children or the visually impaired. Offer to tutor one hour a week in any one of the local public grammar schools in your area, or offer to help someone learn English. Offer to serve food for one lunchtime a week in a shelter near your down-town office. Set up a food collection box in your office and be the one to organise delivery to the local food bank. Food and Education – there is always a need for both.  Always.

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God had nothing to gain by the death of Jesus. Jesus was willing to suffer death but for what? There is no Gospel tradition that suggests he believed he was going to be better off, or that his death wasn’t a real death just a temporary state. There is no mention of a quid pro quo deal with God. Jesus chose to die, but really what choice did he have if he wanted to show his followers what integrity, truth, courage and faith looked like, to show them that his preaching, his ministry, and his leadership were not meaningless, and that the truth was worth dying for. To have fought back would have made a lie out of everything he had said and done.

Did he think he was “opening the gates of heaven,” that he would be the “first born into the kingdom” I don’t think so. This was theological interpretation after the event. What I do think is that he truly suffered. I don’t doubt his anxiety, his panic, his dejection, and how better to express it than by quoting the scriptures he knew and loved: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” Psalm 22. Jesus wasn’t in this for a reward or a “return.” This was the gift freely given, the grace freely offered. God freely gave us his son. Jesus freely gave us his life.

What do we know about what pleases God? We might as well be sacrificing the first born child or burning the first sheaves of wheat, reading the signs of rising smoke or success in battle. But more important than what pleases God is: Why do we feel the need to please god? Is it because we are hoping for reciprocity? In human terms how often is gratification of someone else pure gift? The norm is surely tit for tat, quid pro quo, back-scratching. Certainly in business and politics. So here lies the problem: our view of God assumes that God is as self-serving as we are. If we look at the bible there seems to be ample support for this view all the way back to the Patriarchs. Serve me, worship me, obey me, follow me and then and only then will I …

And that is where contemporary Christian faith has it all absolutely wrong. Just as the Christmas Story has lost sight of the Christian Story, the Easter Story has lost sight of The Cross.

From the point of view of God, the life of Jesus was Absolute gift. We can do nothing to deserve it; we can do nothing to equal it. We can simply accept it as Absolute Grace, Absolute Love. As Jesus was always trying to teach, the best metaphor for God was not king or judge but parent, and parents don’t love on a quid pro quo basis. Wise ones anyway.

The life of Jesus was Gift but what about his death? Did the Cross please God? Did God need a death – another sacrifice? Is the Christian God to be measured by the standards of the pagan priesthood with their high altars and animal bloodletting? Or was Jesus the Ultimate Jewish Paschal Lamb? To me, any attempt at an interpretation of the Cross after the fact that makes it God’s intention, paints God with a pagan brush. And that is just bad theology.

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We simply don’t know what pleases God. But as a mother who lost a son, I can say unequivocally that the death of an innocent child is not pleasing to a parent, and that is the metaphor Jesus pressed us to use – parent – again and again.

So stop trying to please God with prayers and petitions and fasting and novenas. We don’t have a clue what pleases God. But we do have a clue what pleased Jesus. Let’s stick with what we know.

More about that in another Easter reflection. But if you want a hint, Matthew 25:40 seems a good place to start.

I heard this article on NPR and was appalled. Not at the existence or subsistence of convents but at the property ownership of the Vatican.
For the full article go here:
http://www.npr.org/2013/01/25/170267884/spains-strapped-towns-look-to-churches-for-cash

Spain’s Strapped Towns Look To Churches For Cash

by LAUREN FRAYER
January 25, 2013 3:16 PM
NPR

The Catholic Church is Spain’s largest and richest landowner, though its nonprofit status means it is exempt from paying most taxes.

The Catholic Church owns about half of [Alcala de Henares]. Sometimes people die and leave their house or business to the church, which then becomes the landlord.
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Nowadays, there’s a different tax man in town who happens to be broke. The city of Alcala de Henares is $400 million in debt.

Meanwhile, if the Catholic Church had to pay tax on all its property in Spain, it could owe up to $4 billion a year.

“These days, towns are cutting their budgets for health care, education, infrastructure and welfare. But the Catholic Church hasn’t had to make a single cut because it gets money from the state,” said Juanjo Pico, a spokesman for Europa Laica, a Spanish group that lobbies for the separation of church and state.

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“…biblical authors often used humor and the absurd to alert their readers that something very important is about to happen. The births of Isaac and Jesus were my two examples. The idea that either a woman in her nineties or a virgin can give birth is, I said, absurd, and the authors knew this to be so. They never expected their readers to take them literally. Rather they were saying, look these births herald the coming [of] something new into the world and hence break with the normative ways of producing offspring.” Rabbi Rami Shapiro, http://rabbirami.blogspot.com/2012/11/stand-up-theology.html

We all love Thanksgiving dinner and all its trimmings – a beautiful family tradition that brings our families together and mends and heals and nurtures. Now, just a few weeks later we are immersed in the Christmas story and all its trimmings. And, once again, we prepare for family gatherings and for opportunities to renew and reclaim, to nest and remember. But what is it as Christians that we are called to remember? What is the Christian heart of our Christmas story?

Obviously, it’s not Christmas lights and fir trees; it’s not snow men or reindeer. It’s not Santa Claus or even Saint Nicholas – he came much later.

Is it the angels singing in the fields, and the shepherds? Is it wise men from the East and their gifts? Is it Herod’s slaughter of the innocents – that’s hardly festive? Okay, what about the stable and the ox and ass and manger? There has to be a manger because of the song, right? And everybody loves the scene of the angels and shepherd and the baby!

Everybody loves a story of a baby, especially one in which there is danger and pathos and heroism and compassion and beauty and a happy ending with angels singing and a star from heaven guiding a family to safety so a baby can be born under a starry sky….ahhhh! Cue the heavenly chorus. Then add the mysteries and treasures of the Orient and a baby lamb and some portentous dreams. What is not to like about this story? But we still haven’t gotten to the Christian heart of the story. We are still in the Christmas Story. And that is where Christmas stays for so many people it seems, and not just children.

In my experience, adult Christians who have become disenchanted with Christmas have become disenchanted with the Christmas Story not with the Christian Story. In fact they may not really know the Christian story. And here we get to Rabbi Rami’s point.  The Gospel writers, writing decades after Jesus’ death, were not historians of his life; they were not biographers. They were tellers of his Teaching, Death, and Resurrection – and only as an afterthought his birth, and only because, after all, he had to have had one.  In telling about his birth their main concern was to say that God was involved, and that from the very beginning the Jesus Event was a God Event. Not just from the moment of his baptism (Mark), not just from the moment of his announced conception (Matthew and Luke) but even from before the moment of creation (John).

The Gospel writers, when addressing the issue of Jesus’ birth, were giving us theology not biology.  They weren’t interested in eggs, sperm, uteruses – they didn’t know about such things. They weren’t interested in the human person as evil matter versus a good spirit, that idea was a Greek idea that didn’t have any influence on the Gospel writing, obviously, because Jesus clearly had a body in all the Gospel narratives.  The Gospel writers weren’t concerned about Original Sin either; Augustine would create that idea a few hundred years later.

The Gospel writers were telling us, using hyperbole and using Old Testament allusions, that the Jesus Event was a God Event, and that it had always been a God Event, since the beginning of Jesus’ life, or even since the beginning of all time. Moreover, the Jesus Event had been prefigured by many different stories in the Old Testament, showing that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah of Jewish expectation. For example, Micah prophesied the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.

The author of the Gospel of Matthew especially took great pains to connect his version of the Infancy Narrative, as it is called, to prophecies in the Old Testament. For example he connects the family’s trip to Egypt, and the ensuing slaughter of the innocents – two stories no other Gospel includes – to prophecies in Hosea and Jeremiah respectively. It is generally agreed that Matthew’s audience was primarily Jewish-Christian and in his use of Old Testament quotes and allusions he may simply be using a literary device to make his theological points: the Jesus Event was a God Event; Jesus was indeed the Jewish Messiah.  The early Christians hadn’t gone any further than this in trying to figure out Jesus’ relationship to God yet, other than the basic language of Father, Son, and Spirit. The debate about the Trinity took nearly four hundred more years to settle (Council of Nicea 325, Chalcedon 451).

So what then is my point? If we are suffering from Christmas ennui, maybe it’s because we simply have lost sight of the Christian Story.  My solution? Let’s give ourselves the gift of a LITERARY GOSPEL CHRISTMAS. Let’s do some reading of the Gospel narratives with a footnoted Bible translation and/or scholarly commentary at hand and really attempt to understand the Christian Story beneath the Christmas story before we call Bah Humbug to it all!

What would you add?

Another Voice

Just before Thanksgiving, I had an email exchange with an old friend, who is now a member of the episcopal hierarchy… He asked me, with a small dose of annoyance, just what I wanted from the church.

I told him I could think of ten points……..

(1) I want a church that affirms the worth, the dignity, and the autonomy of every woman and man, compatible with the rights of others: a church that supports democracy and human rights and aims at the fullest possible development of every human being.

(2) I want a church that affirms the equality of men and women: that all persons regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation deserve respect and the freedom to live and love in peace.

(3) I want a church that stresses that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility: that a fair society is based on reason and…

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Fellow Travelers? Four Atheists Who Don’t Hate Religion

Paul J. Griffiths, Commonweal Magazine, October 26, 2012

My Comment in response to his article:

Paul, I want to thank you for providing such an informed review of the apologists for the Church without Christ (and the Synagogue without Yahweh).

     To put it more bluntly, the secular self-understanding of the liberal state can no longer motivate its citizens to act self-sacrificially in the service of justice. Its failure to find a way to mark death is mirrored by its failure to make passionate collective action a real possibility.

I am currently ambivalent about God, but find myself longing for a Catholic faith community without the Church. What the Catholic Church has come to represent to me is not God but human corruption, self-serving arrogance, and power-hungry pope mongers. The answer is not to give up on God but on the structures of power that inhibit the values of love and self-sacrifice, beauty and reverence, honesty and penitence from becoming present and visible to the Catholic community. The Catholic faithful need to take ownership of these values, take responsibility for their understanding of the message of Jesus, and take over the practice of faithful witness.

I don’t want any priest at my funeral. I may want a particular priest friend of mine, or perhaps a Rabbi – also a dear friend, because each of these friends exemplifies the values of compassion, tenderness, integrity, and justice rooted in a life of reflective, religious faith that I recognize as truly “of God.”

As a victim of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, one of five in my immediate family, the worst way to mark my death for my family would be with an anonymous representative of the organization responsible for our suffering. Even an empty Church would be painful – the context of our abuse. But what about a house with a gathering of loved ones, and the Catholic prayers and rituals of a funeral rite led by those present?  There could be priests, rabbis, druids, agnostics, atheists, as long as each one was a friend representing only his or her own faith in God and/or love of me.

Perhaps one thing of value that can come from the sexual abuse crisis in our Church is that it might make “passionate, collective action a real possibility” among Catholics who are still faith-travelers in search of God, Love, Truth, and Justice. Then maybe more of us can forestall the rejection of God that would bring us, finally, to that empty church and a memorial with no blessing.

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Vatican II Revisionism

Another Voice

The Second Vatican Council — in various jubilee commemorations – is now the official scapegoat for traditionalist Catholic frustrations. 

Our current traditionalist-in-chief, Pope Benedict XVI, is working overtime these days to re-write the history of Vatican II, to misinterpret its significance, and to undo its accomplishments.

On October 11th, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, published Pope Benedict’s recollections of Vatican II. His remarks are a clear-cut example of Catholic Newspeak: the current medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of pre-Vatican II church theology and practice. “The council fathers neither could nor wished to create a new or different church,” the Pope said. “They had neither the authority nor the mandate to do so. That is why a hermeneutic of rupture is so absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the council fathers.”

Hermeneutics is a process…

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It seems that I have fallen under the spell of magical thinking. Although clear about the nature of priestly ordination NOT making any kind of magical, ontological change in the persona of a priest, I apparently still harbored similar ideas about religious vows.

I have treated my brother James as if his capacity to bear the burdens of others was deeper and wider simply because he was a professed religious. It didn’t help that he was indeed more compassionate, gentle, patient and tender than most brothers, or Brothers. This in fact made it harder to recognise how we all in the family were taking advantage of him and expecting him to bear burdens beyond those of ordinary mortals or even ordinary friends or siblings.

The truth is he has borne those burdens, often juggling one parent’s or one sibling’s needs against another – often more than just one other in fact. And he has borne them alone. Unlike the rest of us – with husbands, wives, children, grandchildren – he has had no permanent presence in his life. No daily confidant or consoler. And he has lost many of his dearest friends in the last few years, reducing the number of support people in his life and increasing the pain and loss in his own relationships.

I have shared these reflections with my brother and our siblings, but I felt the topic was worthy of public comment also.

For those who are committed to going forward in the community of the Catholic faith it is vital that we reconsider our view of religious and priests, and most importantly our view of the vows that we have taken. Yes, all of us are under vows (solemn promises to perform an act, carry out an activity, or behave in a given way) taken for us by our parents at Infant Baptism, renewed by us at Confirmation, and reaffirmed by us every time we recite our creed and pray the Lord’s prayer. Implicit in these sacraments, faith statements and prayers is the promise to live by the beliefs expressed. We are not promising to support priests and religious as they live out their “calling,” we are acknowledging that we, too, are called, that we, too, are committing to live out this common calling, this shared vocation.

The Catholic faith community will not survive unless all Catholics accept their role, their burden, their joy of living a “vowed” life. The role of priests and religious should be seen as supporting us all in this life, not the other way around. This is a good time to reclaim  not the priesthood of the people but the people of the priesthood, or even better the people of Christ.

This excites me. This energizes me. How will this look?

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