Thursday, January 22, 2015

Two "rebels" ordained

On January 3rd, Georgia Walker (photo below) became the first woman Catholic priest to be ordained in 2015 and the first in the conservative Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. During a ceremony presided by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, the 67 year-old convert to Catholicism who had originally thought of joining the Sisters of St. Joseph but left during the discernment process, joined the ranks of several hundred women worldwide who no longer want to wait for the institutional Roman Catholic church to grant them full equality.

According to ARCWP, Rev. Walker has held a variety of positions in the health care industry and has a degree in sociology. She taught sociology for many years at three universities in Kansas and at the federal prison in Leavenworth. She is now the co-founder and executive director of Journey To New Life, an agency that specializes in serving former convicts who suffer from addictions, mental illness and chronic health conditions. Over the last twenty years she has also done accounting for numerous parishes, schools and social agencies. She currently serves on the Board of Peace Works-Kansas City, often engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience and she volunteers with local Catholic Worker houses. She has been convicted of trespassing at the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City and at Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo. Now Rev. Walker wants to work in prison ministry.

Four days after her ordination, Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn issued a formal decree stating that Georgia Walker had been excommunicated latae sententiae. Perhaps the speed of the order reflects the fact that there isn't much love lost between Rev. Walker and Bishop Finn. They had previously tangled over the firing of a food pantry employee in the diocese for her marriage to her lesbian partner. Rev. Walker spearheaded a petition campaign that gathered more than 30,000 signatures calling on the diocese to reinstate Colleen Simon. Along with the petition, Walker delivered a personal message to Bishop Finn: "...The Roman Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph yearn to have a bishop-shepherd who leads with compassion, understanding, dialogue and peace. We pray for one who hears the voice of conscience and follows gospel values of Jesus of Nazareth, who was welcoming, inclusive, collaborative, forgiving and loving. We are weary of actions that reflect inflexible church rules despite the devastating consequences in the lives of sincere human beings striving to respond to God's call to ministry...Please pray about that as you ponder why the parishioners of this Diocese are leaving the church in droves!...Respectfully, I ask that you resign from your position so that we can participate in a more loving and inclusive Roman Catholic Church!" Simon has since filed a lawsuit against the diocese for "fraudulent inducement" arguing that her relationship was known when she was hired.

Given the history, Rev. Walker's response to the excommunication decree should come as no surprise either. "What the official church does to me is not relevant," Rev. Walker said. "They can't take away my baptism, they can't take away my calling to the priesthood. All they can do is deny me their sacraments. But now, I am a priest and I can provide those sacraments. Not just to myself but to others."

Two weeks later, more ordinations. On January 17th in a ceremony in Orlando, Florida, Bishop Meehan ordained one woman, 80 year-old Rita Lucey of Orlando, to the priesthood, and Jim Marsh of Albany, NY and St. Petersburg, FL, Kathryn Shea of Sarasota, FL and Mary Catherine White of Gorham, NH to the ARCWP diaconate (photo above).

Rev. Lucey has a bachelor's degree from Barry University, Miami, and a Masters in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University. As a military wife, she volunteered with the Red Cross in military psychiatric hospitals stateside and overseas. During that time she was also a catechist and then for many years a director of religious education. Later she volunteered with Hospice of the Comforter for 25 years until the facility was sold in 2013. Like Rev. Walker, Lucey has also been involved in civil disobedience. She trespassed at Fort Benning, Georgia during the SOA Watch protest to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas, for which she spent six months in federal prison in 1998. She is an active member of Pax Christi, is a board member of the local chapter of Amnesty International, and past president of the local chapter of the United Nations Association. She has been dubbed by the media the "Rebel Granny" because she has four children and nine grandchildren.

Rev. Lucey told the Orlando Sentinel that she doesn't accept the institutional Church's arguments against women's ordination. "I see that as a man-made thing rather than a revealed truth. It's a patriarchal interpretation of the Scriptures that definitely has sexual bias." Nor is she afraid of excommunication, saying that she remains Catholic through her baptism, confirmation and faith. "Jesus was a good Jew who didn't leave his Judaism any more than I have left my Catholicism in my heart and soul," Lucey reasons. "I asked myself, 'What are you doing this for at this age?'? I know why I'm doing this -- because the spirit is calling me. Women can be priests. We are called to the priesthood."

Going after Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
January 25, 2015

Mark 1:14-20

When John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee and began to "proclaim the Good News of God." According to Mark, he doesn't exactly teach a doctrine so that his disciples would learn it and spread it correctly. Jesus proclaims an event that's already happening. He is already living it and wants to share his experience with everyone.

Mark sums up his message thus: "This is the time of fulfillment" -- you don't have to look back now. "The kingdom of God is at hand" -- since he wants to build a more humane world. "Convert" -- you can't go on as if nothing were happening; change your way of thinking and acting. "Believe in this Good News." This plan of God is the best news you could hear.

After this solemn summary, Jesus' first act is to find collaborators to carry out his project. Jesus "passes by the Sea of Galilee." He has begun his journey. He's an itinerant prophet who's seeking followers to make a fascinating trip with them -- opening the way to the Kingdom of God. He's not a rabbi sitting in his chair, looking for students to form a religious school. Being Christian isn't learning doctrines but following Jesus in his life project.

Jesus is always the one who takes the initiative. He approaches, fixes his sight on those four fishermen and calls them to give a new direction to their lives. Without his intervention, no true Christian is born. We believers are to experience more faithfully the living presence of Christ and his eyes on each one of us. If not him, who can give a new direction to our lives?

But what's most important is hearing his calling within: "Come after me." It's not one day's work. Listening to that call means awakening trust in Jesus, reviving our personal allegiance to him, having faith in his plan, identifying with his program, reproducing his attitudes in ourselves...and winning more people for his plan that way.

This could be a good motto for a Christian community today: Go after Jesus. Put him in front of everyone. Remember him every Sunday as the leader who goes before us. Generate a new dynamic. Focus everything on more closely following Jesus Christ. Our Christian communities would be transformed. The Church would be different.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dignified sexuality and responsible fertility: What does -- and doesn't -- hold from "Humanae Vitae"

by Juan Masiá Clavel, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Convivencia de Religiones Blog
January 8, 2015

(Question 41 of the current Lineamenta for the 2015 Synod deals with how to "effectively promote [openness to life] and the dignity of becoming a mother or father", and it adds, as a minimal reference, "in light, for example, of Humanae Vitae").

I would answer that question by saying simply three things:

1) Let's review what the criteria for dignified sexuality and responsible fertility are: mutual respect of the individuals, just reciprocity in the relationships and responsibility in welcoming life (which excludes both procreation at all costs and uncompromising rejection of it -- both irresponsible).

2) That what needs to be rediscovered, in order to make this review in its light, is not Humanae vitae, but the Second Vatican Council's criterion on responsible fertility (Gaudium et spes, 47-52).

3) That it be made clear, when talking about the Church's teaching on these issues, what holds and doesn't from Humanae Vitae. What holds are its two main criteria on dignity and responsibility in the marriage relationship and the acceptance of life. What doesn't hold and must be overcome: its narrow interpretations of sexuality and its negative conclusions about birth control methods. That is, all that remains of Humanae Vitae is what is not originally its own, but of Vatican II from which Humanae vitae unfortunately backpedaled.

The aforementioned question 41 alludes generally to that very controversial encyclical which has caused so much loss of credibility in the Church.

The question is inspired by paragraphs 57 and 58 of the Relatio Synodi, which seems to echo the abundant negative reactions to the Lineamenta of the previous year, and is limited to recommending "appropriate teaching regarding the natural methods for responsible procreation," inviting us to "return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae...which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births."

(A Vatican-style diplomatic formulation which leaves room for assenting to the principles and dissenting from the conclusions. It would be preferable to acknowledge the limitations of the earlier teaching, which should always continue to develop and evolve historically, and admit that it forces us to combine assent to valid criteria with disagreement with its applications).

The Lineamenta for the 2014 Synod insists on reaffirming Humanae vitae. The summary of the responses (Instrumentum laboris, 2014) showed negative reactions to these questions. The current survey for the 2015 Synod appears to have taken that into account and opens the door for more open, positive, and advanced answers.

One third of the answers proposed here, at the beginning of this post, is what some of us have been presenting in moral theology classes for the last three decades, recognizing that this opinion is not in accord with the one expressed in the documents of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

A brief summary -- a mere thematic index -- of what holds and doesn't from Humanae vitae is as follows (which I've developed in greater detail in the essays Tertulias de Bioética, Trotta, 2006, and Cuidar la vida, Herder y Religión Digital, 2012).

What holds of Humanae vitae: two major excellent premises.

What doesn't hold: two controversial minor premises and two deficient and inconsistent conclusions.

1. Two major premises that are still valid: A) the criterion of mutual respect for the dignity of individuals in the marriage relationship and dignified and just sexual intimacy; B) the criteria of openness to welcoming life and responsible birth, with decisions made in conscience and shared between the spouses.

2. Two minor premises that ought to be corrected: A) the narrow interpretation on the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of each and every act of intimate union; B) the erroneous interpretation on the natural and the artificial, as if everything artificial were anti-natural, forgetting that, as Saint Thomas says, "it's quite natural for human beings to resort responsibly to the artificial."

3. Two deficient and inconsistent conclusions: A) the indiscriminate rejection of methods improperly deemed "unnatural" because they are artificial, and the naively optimistic recommendation of so-called "natural methods" as if they couldn't be irresponsible or infringing on the dignity of the couple when both don't agree with their practice; B) the regulatory imposition of openness to life as indispensable in every act of intimate union or as if that end were an indispensable condition for the legitimacy of said union.

(This is nothing more than the index of a one semester course on the good and bad points of Humanae vitae. Each of these three points could be completed with the writings of reputable moralists like Bernard Häring, Marciano Vidal and Javier Gafo.)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Teresa Forcades: "The story of Jesus is very close to the radical Left -- arrested, tortured and falsely accused"

By Irene Ramentol (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Critic (in Catalan)
December 24, 2014

Teresa Forcades (Barcelona, 1966) is a Benedictine nun, a theologian, and a medical internist. Co-founder with economist Arcadi Olives of Procés Constituent, she sees the remote possibility of building unity on the left in the short term in Catalonia. Despite being a discomforting figure for the conservative sector of the Church, she claims to have received the harshest pressure in the field of health as a result of her criticism of the pharmaceutical companies over the influenza A and HPV vaccines. Her religious vocation began from "falling in love" at 15 after reading the Gospels and since then she has thought of activism as an inseparable part of the faith.

"Religion is the opiate of the people." Surely this phrase from Marx resonates with you...

It's a phrase of the young Marx, when he was 25. Other philosophers had already said it, but he picked it up and from there it had more impact. Normally, it's usually cited as meaning that religion is a bad thing. And obviously Marx is criticizing it but in the context of that criticism, what he's saying is that religion, in fact, is useful to console the people. The problem, according to Marx, is that consoled people don't have the necessary strength to change the structures. And so that's when he's making the radical criticism, saying that this consolation that oppressed people seek out and that is good to have, they must find it within. You shouldn't look for justice in the afterlife, outside of history. The Gospel of John speaks of a theological notion we call realized eschatology. It says that all these promises of God in Christianity are not just for the afterlife. True Christianity says that the just will never be disappointed, that there is a final justice. That this reality in which the one who has more power oppresses the one who has less and where injustice reigns, that God doesn't want it and that there is a possibility of living with justice, without violence, without tears and pain. All this is true. But this isn't truly faithful to the gospel if we don't think it begins now. And that hope has to be through action, not inaction.

Whether or not it's still a consolation, the fact is that religion has been losing followers. Are we more unbelieving?

In this country, we brought it on ourselves. The Catholic Church -- not all of it -- supported one of the most criminal dictatorships of the 20th century for 40 years. It's true that the case of Catalonia was a little different because there were entities such as the monastery of Montserrat which sheltered intellectuals and many other churches that hosted clandestine groups working for democracy. So here we've had a diverse history. But hierarchically for the most part, it was supporting a dictatorial regime. And this is one of the elements that explains the alienation of many people who might agree with this spirit of social justice but have decided to seek it outside of religion. Another element is that today the possibility of giving religious meaning to our lives is much wider than before. We have access to impressive texts from the point of view of religious depth. This has contributed to a lot of people tending towards religious syncretism. They're interested in spirituality but don't want to be boxed into one institution. It's a religious restlessness that wants to break down the institutional boundaries. And we need it, that restlessness, because some of those boundaries make no sense.

Why believe in an "Almighty" God who allows so much misery in the world?

That's a classic question. In theology, it's called theodicy. Indeed we might think that if God is omnipotent, then He's responsible for everything that happens. The God in whom I believe is a God who, when making creation, took a step back, as philosopher Simone Weil explains it. He didn't make creation as an appendix of Himself. He created something that was capable of loving Him freely. So He drew back to create a space where a reality was possible that would only be in God if that reality wanted it.

Free will ...

Yes, but not just that. For me, it is the radicalness of self-determination. What comes from God is always an offer. He invites us to say yes or no. And not just in an existentially complex way. Every day we choose. And this choice exists not because God is impotent or not powerful, but because He is powerful and has chosen freedom. And the corollary is how we are to behave with one another, or the Church with respect to the world. You can't go imposing; you have to go with a plan that radically respects the self-determination of the other. If not, it would be inconsistent.

Can you grasp social reality and participate in change from monastic seclusion? It seems contradictory from the start, given that the main social problems don't occur there -- evictions, unemployment, ...

...or private property, which we don't have either. We're like a neo-rural community where they don't wait for society as a whole to change to try to live differently. In our community, when you enter, if you have any possessions, you donate them. If you work and earn some money, you also give it to the common fund from which you can avail yourself when you need it. I obviously find it very positive to touch on some aspects in which it's possible to live differently. Now, does this lead to an inability to influence social struggles? I hope not. For me, personally, it brings some time constraints, but I would have them if I had a family too. However, I think this experience that an alternative organization is possible gives me strength to participate in social struggles.

Everything you're talking about clashes with the ostentation that there is in the Church...

As in society, I believe that in the Church change never comes from above. Now the Catholic Church has a Pope whom you must acknowledge has made some very important gestures and changes. He has acted, for example, against corruption in the Vatican bank, a major scandal. But what this Pope is doing isn't revolution in the Church. He's clearing blockages with strength that comes from below. With this change of papacy, I think institutional steps to remove excess ostentation are beginning to be taken. But, even more than ostentation, what would please me would be that any privileges the Church might have would be eliminated.

Is any revolution within the Church a dream?

The spontaneous answer is "no". Moreover, it's necessary. In the case of the Church, the revolution should be anti-clerical and against the misogynist structure if we want a radical break with the structures that aren't serving the people. Clericalism has nothing to do with the Gospel or with the communities. It means that between God and the people there are mediators who are the clerics. In Matthew's gospel, when Christ died, it says that at that moment the veil of the temple, which marked the separation between sacred space and what isn't, was torn from top to bottom. That separation, not only in the texts but also in history, has brought social divisions. So what is more symbolic than that at the moment of Christ's death, it says that this division has ended? Here is something so radical that 21 centuries later, we still haven't understood it. And, on the other hand, the revolution must be against discrimination against women. Today in the Catholic Church, there's a link between the fact of being ordained as a priest and having access to decision-making positions within the Church. Because we women presumably can't be ordained, that means we can't have access to the places where decisions are made that affect us all.

And what would have to happen for those patriarchal roles to change?

The first is that women should be persuaded themselves. I always try to get away from victimhood. I agree that we all have to do it, but the driving force must be women. In my own community, if you ask my 30 sisters what they think about women's ordination, most would not agree with it. For me, it's theologically obvious and also humane. But when I realize it isn't for everyone, I feel a mixture of sadness and anger at the same time because I think it's not that we're being oppressed from above -- it's that we have a job to do at the ground level. And I think likewise in the social environment. Of course there's big capital; obviously the power is there. But the crucial point of the revolution isn't the presence or absence of external repression -- it's the presence or absence of consciousness, subjectivation or activation of political subjectivity.

Having studied it, what's women's role in religion?

In the case of Christianity, there are passages of the sacred texts that are clearly and explicitly discriminatory, such as the passage of the First Letter to Timothy that says women must keep silent in church, that they are not allowed to teach, and that, if they haven't understood something, when they get home, they are to ask their husbands. Or the text of Ezekiel where God says that menstruation is unclean. What can you do with these texts? I think they're useful for not idolizing the Bible, being able to assume responsibility for one's own faith and one's own interpretation, knowing that we made the decision to give more importance to some texts than to others and to reject some of them. In the other great religious traditions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism), the same thing happens.

Is the current political left alienated from Christianity?

When I hear the word "left", I can't help but wonder what that is. I'm aware of the whole European tradition that sees the Left as a reform of capitalism. But when I use the word "Left", it's to indicate an alternative to capitalism. If I'm thinking about that Left, I think it's quite alienated from Christianity. Because they're anticlerical and the Catholic Church today is clerical. But there can't be a story closer to the radical Left than Jesus. Arrested by the police of his time, he was tortured as many people still are today and he was murdered, executed by the state with a false accusation. Obviously, those of us who call ourselves followers of that Jesus don't usually have such a story. Some do. We have Pedro Casaldàliga and other figures, but it's clear that most of us have accommodated. And what I would like is to contribute to throwing this accommodation off center.

The dogmas of the institutional church are increasingly removed from society. Just the opposite of what you support. What makes you stay?

I wasn't born into a religious family. I was 15 years old when I read the Gospels for the first time and they made an impact on me. So I started from something that is deep in me. It's like falling in love. From this first impact, I read liberation theology and I was fascinated by everything they said. Then I went to Sant Pere Claver parish in Barcelona, Poble Sec. There they were consistent with what I was reading. And all this was weaving an indelible biography. But in fact, until today, I haven't felt that church membership closed the door on my working honestly for what I think must be worked for. Of the three places -- the university, the hospital and the community -- where I have spent or spend the most time, the monastery is where I feel the most free. At the university, you have to watch the sacred cows because if you trample on their toes, you end up on the outs. In the hospitals, I'm not saying anything has changed but when I lived in the United States, I felt completely stifled. Therefore, this comparison between a repressive church and a society that has already overcome it, is not my experience.

You speak of falling in love. Is faith irrational for you?

No, but it isn't rational. Is love irrational? It can be sometimes, but that which is not, is rational. Love can't be fit into a box, it can't be conceptualized, can't be reduced to a cognitive argument. Is poetry irrational? No, but it's not rational. It's an activity of the human spirit that energizes the freest part of it. Religion is the same.

Have you ever received pressure because of your political activism?

For political activism itself, no. I received a letter of admonition from Cardinal Rodé, but that was on the subject of abortion. I've also had some censorship when I've been prohibited from speaking. That happened in Tarragona when I spoke critically of the beatification last year of the martyrs of the Civil War. I was to have made a speech and the archbishop of Tarragona forbade it. But where there has been more attempts at censorship against me has been on the medical side. At one conference I was told they could no longer invite me because two drug companies had withdrawn funding. And another was this very year when I was to talk in Lleida about the papillomavirus vaccine and there was pressure even from the Ministry. So I don't deny problems within the Church, but I still see much lack of freedom outside it.

The bishop of Solsona believes that abortion is not a "right", but a "terrible and abominable crime." What do you think?

I recognize that there is an ethical conflict on the issue of abortion. One of the fundamental and non-negotiable rights is the right to life. But the right to self-determination is as fundamental as the right to life. While the issue of abortion is sometimes raised as if there were no conflict, I think it does exist. Because I recognize not just one principle, but two. The Catholic teaching says that this conflict must always be resolved so that life comes first. But I have found examples where, in the face of this clash of rights, the Church allows the right to self-determination to come first. In the case, for example, of a child who needs a kidney transplant and his father has a compatible one. It is a real example. Ninety thousand people in the United States each year await a kidney transplant. In these circumstances, the Catholic Church says the father has to decide. So that's hypocrisy.

What do you think about the Church enjoying exemptions from the real estate tax?

I think it's good. Non-Catholic faiths and non-profit entities and NGOs don't pay it either. But actually I think today there's a privilege problem for the Church in Spain because there are some subsidies that come indirectly to certain schools. I don't know if this tax is the best example.

Incidentally, does the Sant Benet monastery pay the property tax?

It doesn't pay it, like the rest of the monasteries and churches.

Let's talk about Procés Constituent. It was born with the aim of bringing together groups from the alternative left to Catalonia to form a joint candidacy. The space, however, is even more fragmented with the emergence of Podem. Will the mission fail?

Getting that broad unity doesn't look good at the moment. But the primary purpose of Procés Constituent remains the same, that is, knowing whether there is a majority in Catalonia that wants to change the course of antisocial policies. I'm convinced that there is. So we need to find the formula. That's not easy, as I can testify. But the first step for me would be for us to end up going with a political party if we can't all go.

Will that happen?

I don't know. We will decide at the assembly. So far, with the various actors with whom we are having discussions, we've received this offer. All of them would agree to a bilateral alliance and thus the way is open.

Who are they all?

Regarding the negotiations, what I can say is that with both ICV-EUiA and CUP -- in the case of Podem, there haven't been formal negotiations in Catalonia because they aren't constituted yet -- there's the prospect of making some type of agreement. What we haven't specified are the conditions. Once we have, we can discuss it in the General Assembly. If unity then becomes possible, we'd be delighted. That's why we were born.

What's certain is that you will be in the next election...

You see that my personal position leans towards that. But that is my position. The supreme body of Procés Constituent, the General Assembly, is who decides. I, too, once we have specified the conditions, will think about my final position, because based on that, I can opt for one stance or another. For me it's no desideratum to go with one party or another. I will evaluate any alliance based on how solid the possibility is that that alliance will be a first step toward a broader future entity.

Do you see yourself as a deputy?


In the event that, once the elections have been held, a sum of all separatist forces were necessary, would Procés Constituent agree to join a coalition government?

In my opinion, it's impossible to govern together with a neoliberal government. The government has to decide whether to continue with the cutbacks or not. I'm in alliance with anyone who wants to stop the cutbacks but not with anyone who wishes to continue them.

Do you have faith in the political process Catalonia is going through?

I have faith in God. In God and in people. I do think that the Catalan process has revolutionary and popular empowerment potential. But all that potential is still hard to evaluate because so far we have rebelled against power with power. The process has begun from below, but there has been an interaction with the government that has not been adversarial. At the most, "President, put out the ballot boxes" but this is a request rather than a demand. Therefore, this conflict between what is popular and what is a network of special interests, which is what we want to change when we're talking about a break, we still haven't played that card deep down. That 2,400,000 people took to the streets doing civil disobedience on November 9th is key, but it was just civil disobedience supported by the powers.

Lately you've been at the center of a new controversy for arguing that diseases such as malaria and Ebola could be treated with an accessible low cost product, the so-called miracle mineral supplement (MMS) or chlorine dioxide . Some people have criticized you on the grounds that it's a risky product and is not scientifically proven. What's your experience with MMS?

I have it at the monastery and I've taken it successfully with no side effects when a cold or allergy starts. With colleagues in the monastery who have come from Kenya, I have seen that it has made fever pass that they said was malaria and one of them took MMS in Kenya and her mother successfully gives it with no side effects to anyone who has malaria. Yes, there have been studies, but much more research would be necessary because it has great potential. What makes no sense is that people who sell it and pass on the information I am giving now are being persecuted. Why persecute them rather than promote it? The suspicion is that MMS has the potential to displace many drugs. If proven effective, this would directly affect the interests of some of the most powerful companies in the world, which are the pharmaceutical ones. With Josep Pàmies, an expert on this issue, and other colleagues, we have prepared a conference on January 9th at the Marist Col·legi de la Immaculada in Barcelona to talk about everything.

The drug companies in the case of MMS, the influenza A and HPV [vaccines], and the big American and European companies in the case of the TTIP. You're arguing that citizens' rights are threatened by private interests ...

Currently, political power has economic power over it. This is anti-democracy. Because democracy is not just voting. It's obvious that voting is essential. But you need something before and after so that we can talk about real democracy. Previously, we need a debate. If they tell me, for example, that the HPV vaccine is excellent and has no side effects and then ask me my opinion, I would say go ahead, because there would have been no prior debate and I wouldn't have been able to hear critical voices. Now we are going again to the scenario of elections with a very short time framework to be able to debate, consider and weigh the options as they would merit. And the quality of democracy is measured by the quality of the debate prior to decision making. But that is not enough to talk about real democracy. You have to be able to revoke. So first deliberate, then vote and then third, if we were wrong, revoke. Not have to wait four years to change a political situation, because that is mortgaging four years of democracy.

We've talked about social justice but based on Christianity, and even more these days, there is much talk of charity. Some criticize this term because, in their view, it's substituted for the concept of solidarity that calls for a fair distribution based on common interests.

I would defend the notion of charity because the way I understand it has to do with freedom and dignity. However, I also see the paternalistic version. Some people may say we don't touch the structures that generate poverty, we give alms to the poor and we let them know it's alms. This is the big difference between the Right and the Left. Right-wingers are people who think that it's good that competitiveness exists in the social sphere. And then they use the charitable institutions to help people who may have a competitive disadvantage. However, a leftist, for me, doesn't believe in competitiveness as a fundamental value, but in solidarity because they take the disadvantaged person's perspective.

And in this obvious context of injustice, are you never invaded by a crisis of faith?

I've never had a crisis of faith. I've had moments of discouragement. But times of doubting that God exists, no. Sometimes I've thought, God calls me to be in the monastery but I can't anymore. During the novitiate I had those moments because I felt that I had been put in a pit in which I didn't see how my life would be 10 years later. I spent some long months badly. And now, with the political process, sometimes when you see that because of problems, including personal ones, a step that would have been good becomes impossible, there are moments of discouragement too. But that is human.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Blessing premarital unions

By Juan Masiá Clavel, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Convivencia de Religiones Blog
December 24, 2014

(Synod Relatio. Paragraph 27: "guidance with an eye towards the eventual celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage"; paragraph 41: "positive aspects of civilly celebrated marriages and, with obvious differences, cohabitation"; paragraph 42: "continual increase in the number of those who, after having lived together for a long period, request the celebration of marriage in Church"; paragraph 43: "All these situations require a constructive response.")

In pastoral practice, we have confirmed the result of accompanying couples from the first steps of their cohabitation through the premarital rite of betrothal to the formalization of canonical marriage. These couples, being believers, want to see their union blessed, even though circumstances (getting an apartment, solidifying employment, family situations) might counsel delaying the formalization of their union.

In these cases, the betrothal Mass is worthwhile as a mutual promise to contract marriage. In it, they receive blessings on the beginning of the process of their union, which will later culminate in the celebration of the canonical wedding.

Neither parochial nor civil bureaucratic red tape is required. It's a blessing, like so many others in the ritual of blessings, or what is called a "sacramental" -- holy water to cross oneself or sprinkling to bless a home, for example.

The one who is accompanying them pastorally should not meddle in the issue of cohabitation, respecting the decisions in conscience of the "spouses on the road to marriage."

This pastoral practice assumes:

1. A theology of marriage as a process -- distinguishing between a wedding that lasts a moment, and the communion of life and love, which lasts years.

2. A revision of sexual morality -- rather a morality of relationships (reciprocal, loving, fair, respectful) centered on the acknowledgement and mutual promise to wed and grow in an authentically human way (unio consummatur modo humano -- the union is consummated in a human manner).

For example, the following case which happened at the center for pastoral attention to immigrants:

"Satoru and María (fictitious names of two young believers -- a Japanese man and a foreign woman) met while attending celebrations at the immigrant welcome center. María is a domestic worker and is saving money to send to her family in her country. Satoru is a graduate student. To finance his studies, he's putting in time as an occasional deliveryman. He also works as a volunteer.

Drinking coffee with both of them after Mass, they told me they had settled into a cramped apartment in that neighborhood. "Come look and see, Father, and bless our house in passing," María said. "With pleasure," I said, "but just blessing the house seems insufficient. Better to bless you." They both smiled at me and María said, "The wedding might happen within the year, but we aren't able to do it right now." "I'm not referring to the wedding," I answered, "but the beginning of the road to marriage. Since you're living together, it's normal that, as the believers you are, you would want to see your union blessed with all the more reason than seeing your house blessed."

"And that can be done?," Satoru asked. "Of course. If we bless the water for baptism and we bless the oils to pray with the sick and we bless the harvest in September and we bless pets and we bless pilgrims at the beginning of their trip...what stops us from blessing the beginning of a cohabitation of a couple who want to start down the road to marriage? You already know that the wedding is one moment but marriage is a journey. That journey of matrimonial union begins before the wedding, continues after it, and lasts a long time. We trust it will last a lifetime. That's why you heard me say in the homily at your friends' wedding (and I'll also repeat it at yours when that day comes) that God blesses you so that you will stay together "until this life together no longer unites you" (which, put like that, is much better than saying "until death do you part").

"Very good, Father. You don't miss the chance to give a sermon," Satoru said, laughing. "Well, end of sermon and let's set the date. What's good for you?" "Next weekend Satoru's mother is coming from her town. We could come with her to the church." "Better for the church to come to your house. Didn't you say you wanted the house blessed?" "OK, so my mother will cook something."

That Sunday afternoon we four met at the small apartment and, seated on the Japanese tatami mats on the floor, we celebrated the Eucharist. At the offertory, María and Satoru said yes to one another to begin their premarital journey. After the mass, we snacked on the mother's homemade sweets and wine from María's country. We had to take the photo to send to the distant family. A few weeks later, María told me of her family's surprise: "'What a strange wedding!', they said." She had to explain to them in a letter that the wedding would be later. "I wasn't going to give them all of Father Juan's explanations about the premarital journey. But my grandmother seemed like she understood it. She said that in her day that was called the statement of intent and asking for someone's hand."

On the other hand, Satoru had a problem when he told the priest of the other neighborhood parish about it. He [the priest] said, "That 's not done, nor what you're doing, living together already. You have to wait until after the wedding to sleep together." I calmed Satoru down. "Don't worry. What's happening is that that priest taught at the seminary and now that he's retired, he's still reading canon law more than the Gospel of Jesus. What Jesus wants is for you and María to love each other more and more. This is why I've blessed you at the beginning of your journey..."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A controversial flag

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
December 28, 2014

Luke 2:22-40

Simeon is an endearing character. We almost always imagine him as an elderly priest in the temple, but the text says nothing about that. Simeon is a good man of the people who keeps in his heart the hope of one day seeing "the consolation" they so need. "Impelled by the Holy Spirit", he goes up to the temple at the moment when Mary, Joseph, and their boy Jesus, are coming in.

The encounter is moving. Simeon recognizes in the boy, whom that poor couple of pious Jews have brought with them, the Savior he has been waiting for for so many years. The man feels happy. In a bold and maternal gesture, he "takes the boy into his arms" with great love and caring. He blesses God and he blesses the parents. Certainly, the evangelist is presenting him as a model. This is how we are to receive the Savior.

But suddenly he addresses Mary and his face changes. His words bode nothing reassuring: "A sword will pierce your soul." The boy he is holding in his arms will be a "controversial flag" -- a source of conflict and confrontation. Jesus will make "some fall and others rise." Some will accept him and their lives will acquire new dignity -- their existence will be filled with light and hope. Others will reject him and their lives will go to waste -- the rejection of Jesus will be their ruin.

On taking a stand towards Jesus, "the attitude of many hearts will be clear." He will reveal what is deep down in people. The welcoming of this boy calls for a profound change. Jesus doesn't come to bring calm but to generate a painful and conflictive process of radical conversion.

It's always that way. Today too. A Church that takes its conversion to Jesus Christ seriously will never be a place of tranquility but of conflict. A more vital relationship with Jesus isn't possible without taking steps towards higher levels of truth. And this is always painful for everyone.

The closer we get to Jesus, the better we see our inconsistencies and deviations, what's true or false in our Christianity, the sin in our hearts and our structures, in our lives and in our theology.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas: Feast of God's humanity and human commensality

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl) (em português)
December 19, 2014

Christmas is full of meaningful things. One of them has been hijacked by the consumer culture that instead of the Child Jesus, prefers the figure of the good old man, Santa Claus, because he is more appealing to business. The Child Jesus, on the other hand, speaks of the inner child we carry within us who feels the need to be cared for and when fully grown, has the impulse to care. It's that piece of paradise that wasn't totally lost, made of innocence, spontaneity, charm, playfulness and coexistence with others without discrimination.

For Christians, it's the celebration of the "proximity and humanity" of our God, as it says in the Epistle to Titus (3:4). God allowed Himself to fall in love with human beings so He wanted to be one of them. As Fernando Pessoa says beautifully in his poem about Christmas: "He is the eternal Child, the God that was missing. He is the Divine that laughs and plays. He's a child as human as he is divine."

Now we have a child God and not a God who's a stern judge of our actions and of human history. What inner joy we feel when we think that we will be judged by a child God! Rather than condemn us, He wants to live and be entertained with us forever.

His birth caused a cosmic upheaval. A text of the Christian liturgy says it in a symbolic way: "Then the leaves that were rustling stopped as though dead; then the wind that was whispering stood still in the air; then the rooster that was singing stopped in the middle of his song; then the waters of the creek that were running became still; then the sheep that were grazing, froze; then the shepherd who raised his staff, remained as if turned to stone; so in that moment everything stopped, all was silent, everything suspended its course -- Jesus was born, the Savior of the people and the universe."

Christmas is a feast of life, of universal brotherhood, a feast of the family gathered around one table. More than eating, we share each other's lives and the generous fruits of our Mother Earth and the culinary art of human hands.

For a moment, we forget the daily chores, the burden of laborious existence, the tensions between family and friends and we become brothers and sisters in joyful commensality. Commensality means eating together around the same table (mensa) as used to be done -- all the family gathered together, talked, ate and drank at the table, parents, sons and daughters.

Commensality is so central that it is linked to the very emergence of human beings as human. Seven million years ago, the slow and progressive separation between the great apes and human beings, from a common ancestor, began. What's unique about human beings -- as distinct from animals -- is gathering food, distributing it among all, starting with the youngest and the elderly and then among the rest.

Commensality assumes cooperation and solidarity toward each other. It is what propitiated the leap from animality to humanity. What was true yesterday remains true today. That's why it grieves us so much to know that millions and millions have nothing to share and are hungry.

On September 21st, 2001, a known atrocity occurred: the planes crashed against the Twin Towers. About three thousand people died in the event.

On the same day exactly, 16,400 children under the age of five died of hunger and malnutrition. On the next day and throughout the year, twelve million children were victims of hunger. And no one was or is appalled by this human catastrophe.

On this Christmas of joy and brotherhood, we can not forget those who Jesus called "the least of my brothers and sisters" (Mt. 25:40) who can not receive presents or eat anything.

But despite this dejection, let us celebrate and sing, sing and rejoice because we will never be alone. The little boy is named Jesus, Emmanuel which means "God with us". This little verse that makes us think about our understanding of God, revealed at Christmas, is worthwhile:

"Todo menino quer ser homem.
Todo homem quer ser rei.
Todo rei quer ser ‘deus’.
Só Deus quis ser menino”.

Every little boy wants to be a man.
Every man wants to be king.
Every king wants to be God.
Only God wants to be a little boy.

Merry Christmas in this year of grace, 2014.