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The Christic Imagination – VI

"Then the other disciple, who had arrived at the tomb first, also went in. And he saw and believed."

Fourteen hundred years later an English woman, Julian of Norwich, pondered the meaning of what she had seen years before during a night of prolonged sufferings. She concluded her account in her book, The Shewings, with these words:

And I saw full surely that ere God made us he loved us; which love was never slacked, nor ever shall be. And in this love he hath done all his works; and in this love he hath made all things profitable to us; and in this love our life is everlasting.

In our making we had beginning; but the love wherein he made us was in him without beginning. And all this shall we see in God without end.

Easter blessings Urbi et Orbi!

 

The Christic Imagination – V

The prayer at the Easter Vigil that follows upon the seventh reading (from the Prophet Ezekiel):

O God of unchanging power and eternal light, may the whole world know and see that what was cast down is raised up, what had become old is made new, and all things are restored to integrity through Christ, just as by him they came into being. Who lives and reigns forever and ever.

The Christic Imagination – IV

There is the cryptic article of the Apostles Creed: "He descended into hell."

There are the enigmatic and controverted verses of Scripture: "For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water" (1 Peter 3:18–20).

Little more.

Over the centuries Holy Saturday had contracted liturgically, leaving little breathing space between the desolation of Good Friday and the exuberant joy of Easter. Within living memory of some (many?) who read this blog, the Easter Vigil was celebrated Holy Saturday morning, with the risen Lord proclaimed amid song and tears of joy at noon of Saturday.

Pius XII's restoration of the full scope of the Triduum happily returned Holy Saturday to its proper place and proportion. But what is that place?

One suggestion is that it is a time of contemplative wonder mixed with dread. Perhaps what I am gesturing towards finds expression in that magnificent ancient homily, read at this day's Office of Readings/Tenebrae Service:

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

The Christic Imagination - II

In her reflection on the Good Friday Liturgy Rita Ferrone writes:

The choice of John’s Passion is pivotal. Jesus reigns from the cross. His hour of glory is on the cross, for it is not simply an instrument of his humiliation and suffering but the access point of life and salvation for those who believe.

Bach's faith-filled imagination sublimely proclaims this truth in the majestic opening chorus of his Saint John's Passion, "Herr, unser Herrscher:"

The hammer-like repetition of "Herr, Herr, Herr" and the sinuous melodic line that follows resounds both plaintive and triumphant.

Lord, our sovereign Lord, your glory reigns in every land. Show us by your Passion that you, the true Son of God, are ever glorified, even in the most profound humiliation.

 

 

The Liturgies of the Triduum

It’s Holy Thursday. The Paschal Triduum is about to begin this evening with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. For Catholics these are our “high holy days,” a single celebration of the Paschal Mystery spread out over three days, the center and high point of which is the Easter Vigil.

How important is it to get to the three great Triduum liturgies? For a lot of Catholics, it’s getting harder and harder, because of work.

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The Christic Imagination

We just concluded the Tenebrae service at Saint Theresa's in the Bronx: the psalms were chanted, as were the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Several classes of the parish school were present -- and participating! After each psalm two candles are extinguished. At the end, the lone candle remaining lit was taken from the candelabrum and led the procession out of the church. There was rapt silence.

One of the readings is from the ancient homily of Melito of Sardis. Here is an excerpt:

There was much proclaimed by the prophets about the mystery of the Passover: that mystery is Christ, and to him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

  It is he who was made man of the Virgin, he who was hung on the tree; it is he who was buried in the earth, raised from the dead, and taken up to the heights of heaven. He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb, the lamb born of Mary, the fair ewe. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay. He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised man from the depths of the tomb.

 

Finn flayed.

Last week, Kansas City Detective Maggie McGuire was honored for her work on the troubling case of Shawn Ratigan, a now-laicized priest serving a fifty-year sentence for possessing and creating child pornography. Recall that in 2012 Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph was found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse--after diocesan personnel informed him that they had found pornographic photographs of minors on Ratigan's laptop and the bishop failed to notify police. Obviously Deputy U.S. Attorney Gene Porter hasn't forgotten the details of that case, because when he presented the Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award to McGuire, he delivered a stinging rebuke to Finn and his diocese:

When it becomes clear at the outset of the investigation that the entire hierarchy of a centuries-old religious denomination does not seem willing to recognize that the children depicted in the images are, in fact, victims of child exploitation, nor seem very willing to help establish the identity of the children depicted, and instead are spending millions of dollars on legal counsel in an ill-advised effort to avoid having the priest and bishop accept legal responsibility for their crimes, then you know, as an investigator, that your work is cut out for you.

He continued:

But for [McGuire's] work, multiple victims might not have been identified, a predatory priest might not have been removed and sentenced to the functional equivalent of life in prison, and Robert Finn never would have become the first cleric of his rank in the United States to sustain…a criminal conviction for failure to report suspected child abuse.

A judge sentenced Bishop Finn to two years of probation. He has not been censured by church authorities.

(H/T NCR)

Abducted in Cameroon

Sr. Gilberte Bussiere; photo courtesy Congrégation Notre-Dame

Two Italian priests and a Canadian nun were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Cameroon on April 5. The radical Islamist group Boko Haram from Nigeria is suspected. I don’t remember how I came across the story. Did I read it? Was it on the radio? But I know it registered. These were Catholic missionaries. Who were they? The news story didn’t say.

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Connecting the Circuits

The leitmotif of the great father of the Church, Origen, in his commentaries on Scripture was: "not only then, but now." The narrative of faith is not merely "in illo tempore," but "in hoc tempore."

It is the challenging task of the preacher to proclaim God's Word as relevant in our own day. But, of course, it is the task of every believer to appropriate the Good News, to pass over from a merely "notional" to a "real" apprehension and assent.

Here the great artists – poets, painters, musicians – can be occasions of grace for us. Perhaps none more so than Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach's two surviving Passions coincide in the current liturgical year with our reading of Saint Matthew and Saint John today and Good Friday. I have been listening these past days to the Saint Matthew Passion and will towards midweek begin to play/pray the Saint John Passion.

In his masterful, Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, John Eliot Gardiner devotes ninety dense pages to an analysis and appreciation of the Passions. Here is an excerpt:

As everyone familiar with either of Bach’s surviving Passions knows, participating either from the outside as a listener or from the inside as a performer, the placement of the chorales is central to the overall experience – pulling the action into the here and now, confirming, responding to, or repudiating what has just happened in the narrative, and obliging one to consider its significance.

 

It is the judicious choice and placement of chorales that provide the essential scaffolding and punctuation of the narrative and that simultaneously articulate the underlying theological themes. You could of course remove them (together with the meditative arias) and the piece would still make sense at one level; but to do so would break the circuit –obliterating the connections to Bach’s time and to ours.

Pope Francis apologizes for sexual-abuse scandal.

 

Today, in an address to members of the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE)--an NGO that works to protect the rights and dignity of children--Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the "damage [abusive] priests have done for sexually abusing children." Noting that the total number of abusive priests is high, "obviously not compared to the number of all the priests," Francis reassured the audience that "the church is aware of this damage; it is personal, moral damage carried out by men of the church." He promised that "we will not take one step backward with regards to how we will deal with this problem, and the sanctions that must be imposed--on the contrary, we have to be even stronger."

Is this earth-shaking? Not really. But given that the last time he spoke on the subject it didn't exactly go over too well, this is a marked improvement. And--significantly--these remarks were not part of the prepared text. Francis could have read through the speech as written and avoided the uncomfortable subject altogether, bringing headlines like, "Pope Speaks to Child-Protection Group, Ignores Sexual Abuse." But he didn't. And what he said carries some force.

Francis pledged not to "take one step backward." He referred to "sanctions that must be imposed." Of course, the question remains: sanctions for whom? For abusive priests? We're aware of those sanctions. What about the bishops who enabled abusers? Francis has made it clear that he's not afraid to investigate an accused cardinal. But is he willing to penalize bishops who have put kids at risk--even after the hard lessons of 2002? That's the great unfinished business of the sexual-abuse scandal.

 

A Lenten Love Letter

There is something characteristically, beautifully and powerfully Catholic about CRS Rice Bowl

Characteristically, because Rice Bowl is an intensely incarnate program.  The flimsy, yet sturdy, fold-together Rice Bowl on the dining room table is something you can see and touch.  The aromas of Rice Bowl's meatless dinner recipes fill the kitchen on Friday nights, stimulate the taste buds with flavors both new and familiar, and fill the stomach (or not, which provides its own lesson). 

Beautifully, because Rice Bowl's educational materials are thoughtfully and artfully prepared.  They're inviting to the eye and always feature, first and foremost, photographs of CRS beneficiaries from around the world and across the US.  Unlike some charitable programs, Rice Bowl doesn't innundate its donor-participants with images of blank-eyed impoverished victims on the brink of death.  Rather, Rice Bowl's photographs, stories and videos steadily and subtly offer images and reminders of the hope and joy that come from faith and love made incarnate. 

Powerfully, first because Rice Bowl raises $7 million annually to support CRS programs in 40 countries around the world. (1/4 of money raised stays in local dioceses.)  Second, because Rice Bowl deepens the meaning and practice of Lent...especially for children:

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Seeing things.

Dear readers, I'm afraid I owe you an apology. Last week, I criticized members of the media for their coverage of Pope Francis's meeting with President Obama. Before the meeting, some commentators suggested that the pope was planning to confront the president about his support for the contraception mandate and abortion rights. And after the meeting others contrasted the Vatican's press release with Obama's recollections at a press conference. I wrote:

There's nothing perplexing about the differences between a formal Vatican statement and a president's ad libbed remarks to the press. The Vatican's news release was never going to contain revealing language about the pope's emotional response to meeting Obama. It was never going to go on at any length or in any detail about what they discussed. When Benedict XVI met with George W. Bush in 2008, for example, it was, yes, awesome, but the joint statement of the Holy See and the White House didn't exactly describe the visit in florid terms. That's just how these things go.

How mistaken I was. If only I'd waited a couple of days to post, I would have had my illusions dispelled by George Weigel's analysis. He, too, took issue with pre-meeting speculation, noting that some of it caused "confusion" that was "instructive on several counts." According to Weigel, that shows just how "poorly equipped" most of the media is "to cover the Vatican and its ways." But those ways are right in Weigel's wheelhouse, so he attempts to sort through them for the rookie Vaticanista, beginning where so many of Catholicism's riches lie: symbolism, especially photographic symbolism, particularly photographic symbolism that entails the appearance of popes with other world leaders.

Pope Francis conducted his conversation with President Obama across a desk — a stage-setting exercise on the Vatican’s part that one canny media veteran thought “a tad aggressive” and another observer said resembled a school principal having a firm talk with a recalcitrant student.

I hadn't considered that. But now that Weigel mentions it, I see his point. How many office-hours have I spent sitting across the desk from a teacher who offered firm rebuttals to my half-baked musings on this or that theological problem? Of course, I may have been too arrogant to understand how thoroughly my incompetence had been exposed. But I had no illusions about who had authority and who did not.

See for yourself:

There you have it. On one side: Leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, chosen by the College of Cardinals to serve for the rest of his life, whose approval ratings are the envy of elected officials across the globe. On the other: president of a country of about 320 million, half of whom aren't happy with his leadership, and a tiny fraction of whom cares enough to vote. Could Pope Francis have been any clearer? When a pope places a desk between a world leader and himself, it's obvious to anyone who knows anything about the Catholic Church that he is signaling the distance between the two--if not his outright disapproval.

Just look at how Pope John Paul II handled talks with his collaborator--or at least pen pal--Ronald Reagan:

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Suspended belief.

Today the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced that it has suspended a high-school teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with one of her students this year. Which is what a diocese does when it learns that one of its employees may have abused a minor. But what does a diocese do when it also learns that the staff member who first received the allegation waited weeks to report it? Turns out this one suspends that employee too--and names her (and the accused) in a public statement and a letter to parents.

A number of weeks ago, Annette Goodman, the school’s librarian, learned about the allegation. Maryland law and the policies of the Archdiocese and Archbishop Curley High School require that allegations of child abuse be reported to civil authorities and to the head of the school as soon as possible. Ms. Goodman reported the information to the school’s administration on April 1.

There's transparency and then there's transparency.

Maryland law requires mandatory reporters--which includes educators--to orally notify civil authorities of suspected abuse "immediately" (they have forty-eight hours to file a written report).

You may recall a somewhat similar case involving a diocesan staff member who came to suspect one of his priests was in possession of child pornography. He was eventually found guilty of failing to report suspected child abuse. But he wasn't suspended, and he remains in the position he held when he broke the law: bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

We'll know whether this amounts to a real shift in church policy when the people who get suspended for failing to report include the men responsible for creating this scandal.

(H/T Michael Paulson.)

What’s up with 59 percent of white Catholics?

A new Pew survey shows “modest decline” in support for the death penalty, with 55 percent of U.S. adults saying they favor it for people convicted of murder and 37 percent opposing, as opposed to 62 percent favoring and 31 percent opposing in 2011, the last time Pew asked the question.

Any drop comes as good news for those opposed to capital punishment, but as usual the drill-downs turn up the interesting information. Take race: Many more whites (63 percent) continue to support the death penalty than do Hispanics (40 percent) or African Americans (36 percent). Or religion-and-race: 67 percent of white evangelical Protestants and 64 percent of white mainline Protestants support the death penalty; for Hispanic Catholics and black Protestants, support is 37 and 33 percent, respectively. And white Catholics? Support for capital punishment is higher than the overall number, at 59 percent.

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Jesuits march ahead

The first laywoman to head a Jesuit school likely to be named soon!  Washington Post.

Confirmed: America.    HT: Gene Palumbo

Faith-quake

Ben Myers is an Australian theologian, a member, I believe, of the Uniting Church of Australia. In addition to numerous writings he has a blog, "Faith and Theology," where he recently posted a Lenten reflection on the "Apostles Creed."

Here is an excerpt:

The third day he rose again from the dead

His life and death were not an inspiring illustration. He was not a symbol of a higher truth (that spring follows winter, that every cloud has a silver lining, that things will generally work out in the end if only you believe in yourself). Was not resuscitated. Was not hallucinated back to life by his grief-stricken companions. Deep in the world of flesh, the tectonic plates were shifting and Big Things happened. He had clutched death by the roots and dragged it up. When the grieving woman saw him at the tomb, she thought he was a gardener. She thought he had been weeding. So well she knew him.

The rest is here.

HT:RS

On abortion, Hobby Lobby looking wobbly.

The owners of Hobby Lobby want you to know they take their moral commitments seriously. The Green family's stores don't sell shot glasses. They're closed on Sundays. They don't even allow their trucks to "back-haul" beer shipments. As supporter Ben Domenech pointed out, all those practices "could make them money, but they just bear the costs." The Greens are so serious about their Christian beliefs that they've made a federal case out of their objection to paying insurance premiums that would allow their employees to choose to receive contraceptive products that the Greens deem no different from abortion. That's why Domenech wrote, "I doubt this is the type of company to spend one dime on this contraception mandate. They will just drop coverage, and pay employees the difference...rather than compromise their beliefs." Except it looks like they've been doing just that.

Over at Mother Jones, Molly Redden reports that Hobby Lobby's employee retirement plan "held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions." And Hobby Lobby makes significant matching contributions to the 401(k)--nearly $4 million in 2012, according to the company's 2013 disclosure to the Department of Labor. In other words, Hobby Lobby invests millions in companies that manufacture the very products they want to be exempt from covering in their employee health plans--products they believe cause abortions. As Redden notes, other holdings in Hobby Lobby's mutual funds include companies that make drugs used to induce abortion, drugs administered during abortion procedures, and insurers that cover surgical abortions.

This raises an obvious question: If the Greens are so committed to the belief that they cannot in good conscience pay health-insurance premiums that might result in employees using products that could prevent the implantation of fertilized eggs, then why are they OK with spending millions annually on companies that manufacture drugs that will certainly cause abortions? In other words, as Nick Baumann put it, "either remote cooperation with abortifacients is a red line for you or it's not."

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Hobby Lobby invests in same drugs to which it objects?

Today Molly Redden at Mother Jones reports that Hobby Lobby holds mutual funds that invest in the manufacturers of the same pharmaceuticals and devices to which the company claims religious objection.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company's owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).

Several of the mutual funds in Hobby Lobby's retirement plan have holdings in companies that manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby's health care policies: the emergency contraceptive pills Plan B and Ella, and copper and hormonal intrauterine devices.

There would have been many ways to avoid this, since "faith-based investing" in funds that avoid "vice" industries or other objectionable companies is a well-known phenomenon with competitive rates of return.

All nine funds—which have assets of $73 million, or three-quarters of the Hobby Lobby retirement plan's total assets—contained holdings that clashed with the Greens' stated religious principles.

Hobby Lobby and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the conservative group that provided Hobby Lobby with legal representation, did not respond to questions about these investments or whether Hobby Lobby has changed its retirement plan.

I would have assumed a company taking the issue of corporate free exercise all the way to the Supreme Court would have looked into this. I doubt it would have affected the case's outcome, but it certainly could have affected the oral arguments by forcing the plaintiff to distinguish degrees of cooperation between providing health insurance options and providing retirement plan options. If these drugs and devices aren't too objectionable to invest in for your employees' retirement plans, a justice might have asked, why are they too objectionable to include as options in your employees' health insurance plans?

Read the details here.

Archbishop Gregory apologizes.

Last week I pointed out that Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta had recently moved into a $2.2-million, 6,200-square-foot home--an expense made possible by a $15-million bequest. Gregory had been living at the cathedral rectory, but apparently that parish is growing rapidly. The rector of the cathedral asked Gregory whether the parish could purchase the property from the archdiocese, and Gregory agreed. That's why he built the new residence. But in January, Gregory met with parishioners who weren't happy with that plan. They wanted him to sell the new building, move into the old one, and use the money to help the poor.

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month, Gregory and McNamee said the expenditures were necessary for their living arrangements and that it was too late to reverse course. They also noted the plans had been approved by governing bodies within their respective institutions.

“To undo what has been publicly announced for two years wouldn’t be a prudent use of archdiocese resources,” Gregory said.

Gregory also said he thinks the new home would have the pope’s blessing.

“He wants his bishops to engage with his people,” said Gregory, who was installed as archbishop in Atlanta in 2005. His new home, he said, allows for larger groups to visit; the grounds also are good for cookouts and other outdoor activities. In this way, said Gregory, he can follow the pope’s admonition to “smell like the flock” — to be close to parishioners.

“It’s important for me to connect,” he said. “And that’s another dominant theme for Pope Francis.”

The archbishop has had a change of heart. Yesterday he issued a long, remarkably candid apology, leading with a tough letter he received from a parishioner. “We are disturbed and disappointed to see our church leaders not setting the example of a simple life as Pope Francis calls for," she wrote.

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New issue, now live

Our April 11 issue has just been posted to the website. Among the highlights: “The Odd Couple” (subscription), John Wilkins’s piece on the upcoming canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II and how the legacies of these two very different popes relate to each other.

Both popes brought about revolutions, John XXIII in the church, John Paul II in the world. When John called a council, he was asked why it was needed, since popes were infallible now. The story is that he went over to a window in his study and flung it open: The church needed fresh air. …

John Paul II’s revolution started at once. His 1978 inaugural sermon in St. Peter’s Square electrified Eastern Europeans, who, watching it on television and hearing it on radio, could discern what it portended, and it emboldened some evangelical pastors daunted by secular culture in the West as they sought to proclaim Jesus Christ. John Paul II showed them how. “Open wide the doors for Christ!” he exhorted. “To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development!

“Do not be afraid! Christ knows what is in man. He alone knows it.”

Read the whole thing here.

Also in the new issue: George Scialabba on Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke; John Garvey on Audrey Assad and what’s lost when faith is identified with fundamentalism (subscription); Celia Wren on the new TV series Fargo (subscription); and Kaitlin Campbell’s Last Word on "becoming a character-composite of every nun I knew" to make it through a few tense moments at a lonely Oakland bus stop (subscription). See the entire table of contents here.