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Coming Home by Teaching The Beatitudes according to Lúcás Chan

After two weeks of teaching a bioethics course in Pune in the second half of June, I began July in Bangalore where I taught a very intensive two week course for 26 licentiate and doctoral students meeting 4 hours a day.

The course was “Biblical Ethics” and it was to be team taught by Lúcás Chan and me. Though I team taught courses frequently with Dan Harrington and with Roger Haight, this would be my first time team teaching with a former doctoral student.  We agreed to meet in Bangalore on July 1 a little more than two weeks before Chan would be chairing the first ever Pan Asian conference of Catholic Theological Ethicists.  We had each written two books in this fairly new field that Chan pioneered.  Unfortunately, as many of you know, Chan died of a heart attack on May 19th.

In this light, I decided I should only teach his work.  I thought, if I taught both his and mine, more students would naturally ask me about mine.  Besides they probably would have been more deferential to my work, though Chan’s you will see is the more significant.

The decision was a good one.

Unlike anyone before him, Chan established normative criteria for doing biblical ethics.  In Doing Biblical Ethics in the 21st Century: Developments, Emerging Consensus, and Future Directions, he insisted that writing biblical ethics required exegetical competency as well as a competency in ethics, particularly in proposing a method for applying the exegetical insights to ordinary moral life.  Additionally Chan argued that virtue ethics was a most worthy method for making that application.

Chan learned this from assisting the biblical exegete Dan Harrington and me in our team teaching.  He also saw that others, like biblical theologian John Donahue and ethicist William Spohn had also worked together to highlight the needed double competency.  While Catholics had more modestly divided the competency into a team approach, Protestants Allen Verhey and Richard Burridge had each managed to write with both competencies.  When Chan then wrote on The Ten Commandments and the Eight Beatitudes: Biblical Studies and Ethics for Real Life, he became the first Catholic to actually achieve the integration in his writings by honing the double competency.  Not surprisingly, Margaret Farley called the work “a major step forward,” Dan Harrington called it “a milestone,” and Alain Thomasset in Paris called it a “tour-de-force,” a “classique” 

This double competency might seem self-evident to the reader, but Chan shows us in Doing Biblical Ethics how major biblicists like Frank Matera and Richard Hayes, and major moralists like Bernhard Häring might have attempted a biblical ethics, but ignored the very competency they were lacking. 

Moreover, exegesis, the science that aims to understand the meaning of the biblical texts when and as they were written, is a relatively new science, going back to the end of the nineteenth century.  Still, Chan found many ethicists who in trying to develop writings on biblical ethics were very pastoral, but by their lack of exegesis, they were not very biblical.  Likewise, biblicists pretending to be ethicists never appropriated an adequate method for making their ethical application.

I taught his six major essays and two books.  The last essay that he wrote was on immigration today and the hospitality of Boaz, the post-exilic figure who welcomes Ruth and Naomi.  Chan saw in an anxious Israel and the decisive presence of Boaz, a relevant hero from whom many lessons could be drawn for today’s unsettling, immigrant world.  In fact most of the students did their papers on Boaz, such was the relevance of the lessons that Chan drew.

But what we most studied were his ten commandments and the eight beatitudes in which he treated each of the eighteen teachings with an examination of exegetical claims and then an application through virtue ethics.   As he explains in his introduction, these are the two pillars of Christian morality or, echoing Raymond Brown he writes, “the Decalogue expresses God’s will while the Beatitudes reveals the values Jesus prioritized.”

The ten chapters on the Decalogue were eye-openers, but even more revelatory were his treatment of the beatitudes.  I need to confess that I could never “got” the beatitudes; each seemed so arbitrary that I never saw them as integrated, composite, or complete.  Chan began, however, his treatment echoing Augustine’s claim that the beatitudes are the “complete, perfect teaching of Christian morality.”

Along with the exegetes, Chan chooses Matthew’s Beatitudes because of its coherence.   Moreover, the radical nature of its summons is for all Christians and even if perfection is not achievable, it is still a way that we should strive to follow: it instructs us on which anthropological values Christ wants us to develop.  Here, he finds John Climacus’ “ladder” approach to growing in virtue helpful.

For the first beatitude, “the poor in spirit,” Chan with other exegetes like Hans Dieter Betz insists that these poor are not only spiritually so; their condition is such that being without everything, being in a word beggars, they are in special need of God’s help.  Chan, who grew up in poverty, writes that “the poor in spirit who often suffer from economic poverty are those who acquire the internal attitude of humility.”

Here then Chan shifts and argues that the condition “poor in spirit” brings on an attitude, “poor in spirit.”  The attitude is the equivalent of the virtue of humility.  Chan points out that this humility is a spiritually emptying out; he writes, “humility means accepting the complete poverty of our human condition.”

For each of the beatitudes, Chan begins the section on ethics, by first naming a virtue that expresses the particularity of the beatitude.  He then offers how the virtue functions, what practices express it, who exemplify it, and what is the social context that most needs the virtue. 

For the first beatitude, Chan underlines how from Climacus, Chrysostom, Ambrose and Augustine to Gerald Vann and Johannes Metz, all found humility as the foundation of any Christian anthropology.  The practices of humility begin with the acknowledgement of God as the ultimate source and meaning of our lives, which leads us to renounce anything that separates us from God, that in turn requires an ability to be both detached as well as free to share what we have, and which depends on ascetical practices of self-denial.   Exemplars begin with Jesus who tells us (Matt 11.29) “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”  

Chan begins each chapter with, “What did the text proclaim?”  For the second beatitude, Chan notes how Matthew notes that his mourners will be comforted, while Luke’s will laugh.  At the start, Chan wants to know who is mourning about what.  Again he turns to Betz who suggests that grieving in the second beatitude is directed to the poor in the first. 

Chan is aware of the banality of many ethicists and preachers who insist that the beatitude is a summons to mourn, for if one denies one’s own grief one will never know the comfort and happiness that follows, in other words a cheap summons to grief counseling.  But Chan notes,  “no one is being told to mourn!”  “The object of mourning is not so much one’s own suffering… mourning points to an other-oriented moral value.”  Then emphatically he writes, “Such is the lot of the disciples of Christ---when our brothers and sisters suffer, we cannot help but mourn.  This is very different from other interpretations of the beatitude, such as the ‘call to console’ proposed by Häring.  The beatitude is not about that; it is about a certain disposition that genuine disciples have with one another, such that if one suffers, the other mourns as well.”

Solidarity is the virtue of the second beatitude.  The practice related to solidarity is not comfort, but rather mourning itself.  “In mourning the self tries to identify with the other.  Mourning is then the ready subordination of one’s own comfort and well being to the suffering of another.”

Climbing the latter further, Chan takes us to the third beatitude, the meek who will inherit the earth.  Here Chan surveys the exegetes and uncovers, as in the first beatitude, the difference between condition and attitude: “while the term ‘meek’ as a condition tends to refer to the poor, the powerless, and those who mourn, as a moral attitude it considers also the rich and powerful.”

When he turns to the virtue of meekness, he turns to the question of arrogance in the powerful and argues that “the virtue of meekness helps our desire to dominate into a vital force to serve.”  He adds, “we need to emphasize it as a virtue for the poor and the powerful.”  Here he turns to Monika Hellwig’s astute observation that the powerful “need to unlearn those patterns of behavior that control and dominate others and that ‘defend’ their possessions and prestige at the cost of others.”   In a fairly remarkable application to social context, Chan explores how meekness would look alive in the corporate world.

We could follow through on the remaining five beatitudes, but what is so refreshing in each of these instances, (most beatitudes are treated by Chan exegetically and ethically in 5-6 pages) are the ways Chan engages the double competency.  In the fourth beatitude, for instance, knowing the biblical investigations he appreciates that “God’s righteousness as revealed in Scripture is very different from our contemporary understanding of justice.”  To get us to a right understanding of what we are to strive for, Chan, who taught on three continents (Asia, Europe and North America), tries to coax us from our assumptions and tries to lead us to understanding what exactly the text might mean and why that makes a difference for how we should live as Christians.  Once we understand why we should strive for the righteousness of God, Chan leads us to understand fortitude as the virtue of the fourth beatitiude.

I have learned many lessons this summer about friendship, about life and death, and even about the struggles and hopes in Asia, particularly in India, but here I learned, for a brief moment, to give up teaching my own agenda and to engage the agenda of a younger person, a man I knew and loved.  In accepting his agenda and making it my own, I found that I learned a lot about the commandments and the beatitudes, especially the beatitudes.

In a way by mourning for his loss, I learned something about solidarity and meekness and fortitude, but especially humility.  In his writings, I studied these two moral pillars of the Christian tradition that gave me a way to find my own way home.  After 50 days of moving literally around the world in grief, to funerals, classes, and yes, even international conferences, my Asian pilgrimage comes to a somewhat strangely satisfying end, because I learned to let go from one who surprisingly went before me.

Moral Voices from The East

On Monday afternoon we finished, here in Bangalore, our first ever Pan-Asian Conference of Theological Ethicists: “Doing Catholic Theological Ethics in a Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Asian Context.”  There were 95 ethicists, among whom were 14 plenary speakers and another 36 presenting paper during concurrent sessions.

One of the finest plenary sessions, “Doing Interfaith Ethics in Asia” involved three speakers from countries where Catholics are very much a minority. Delivering a flawless paper, “A God by any other name,” Sharon Bong covered the trajectory of lawsuits filed by the Catholic church in Malaysia against its government’s decision to permit only Muslims to use the word “Allah” in referencing God. For twenty centuries, Malay-speaking Christian Malaysians have used “Allah” as their word for God, easily predating the Muslim use of the word. In 2008, the Catholic press was banned from using the word, or else it would forfeit licensing. With a final court decision ultimately upholding the government ban, Bong entertained whether forgiveness or resistance marks the proper ethical response.

Haruko Okano from Japan proposed an argument on how feminist Catholic writings on “moral responsibility” could help contemporary Japanese ethics. Explaining how much a shaming culture inhibits any autonomous accountability, Okano considered how often a Japanese apology is a face-saving action that has little to do with assuming personal or social moral culpability. When asked what was the meaning of the Japanese apology for World War II, she answered that it was a way of simply saying, let bygones be bygones, a reply that left the audience speechless.

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Sr. Mary Scullion Writes on the Firing of Margie Winters

dotCommonweal reader Jack Marth and members of the Waldron Mercy Academy parent community have highlighted a column in support of the school’s former religious instruction director Margie Winters, whose dismissal I wrote about last week. One of the co-authors of the piece is Mary Scullion—a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy and co-founder and executive director of Project H.O.M.E., an organization devoted to ending homelessness in Philadelphia. Scullion is well known both inside and outside the city, having received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 2011 and being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2009. Joan McCannon—co-founder of Project H.O.M.E., fellow recipient of a Laetare Medal, and parent of a Waldron graduate—also lent her byline, as did philanthropist James J. Maguire, president of the Maguire Foundation. Scullion’s input on the firing comes as a welcome development to the parents I’ve been in touch with, many of whom had been hoping for her to comment.

From the column, which appeared yesterday on Philly.com:

The recent controversy at Waldron Mercy Academy brings to light that we are at a critical moment for the Catholic Church, and for all persons of faith and conscience in this country. It is a moment rife with pain and struggle, but also hope. ...

[W]e believe that the Church’s truest integrity is at risk when it emphasizes orthodoxy and doctrine without meaningful engagement with human and historic realities. We love the Church: We draw deeply from its rich traditions of spirituality, compassion, service, and justice. But we also recognize (and need to take responsibility for) our many historic blind spots—persecution of heretics, oppression of indigenous peoples in the name of “mission,” and second-class status for women.

While it is painful for us to have to publicly dissent, we are convinced that this is a moment when insistence on doctrinal adherence is clashing with what we believe the Spirit is unfolding in our history—just as it has in the past, with issues like slavery, the rights of women, and the environment. Many Christian denominations have listened to the movement of the Spirit and moved toward both full inclusion and full embrace of the gifts of our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers.

The Church is at its best when it listens to the Spirit speaking in our times and through human experiences. As we listen, we hear the Spirit speaking through the testimony of hundreds of parents and former students, who affirm that Margie has been a marvelous teacher and influence. She has been a gift to the Church, nurturing the faith and morals of countless young people, fostering a spirit of mercy, compassion, and justice.We believe the controversy surrounding Margie Winters is the Spirit inviting us to reflect on Church doctrine that upholds the dignity of every person. ...

As we work through the pain and conflict, as we listen to each other, as we struggle to make sense of the power of tradition and the challenge of newness, we believe this can be a moment of hope and grace.

July 17, Bangalore: The Opening of the First Ever Pan Asian Conference of Catholic Theological Ethicists

Later today we open, here at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, a conference with a lot of intentionality, Doing Catholic Theological Ethics in a Cross-Cultural and Interreligious Asian Context.

Last night, as a group of us were returning from dinner, we walked into a young Filipina ethicist, Anthonette Mendoza, who flew 12 hours from her university, Louvain, to get here.  Another, Kristin Heyer, one of the leaders of our Planning Committee, had just flown from California to Dallas to Boston to Frankfurt to Bangalore to get here.  As we were returning to the university Guest house where 45 of the 90 guests are staying, we ran into Vimal Tirimanna who had just flown in from Sri Lanka and Bernhard Kieser from Indonesia.

This conference is the brain child of Lúcás Chan, the Jesuit ethicist from Hong Kong who met Shaji George Kochuthara the Indian Carmelite ethicist at Dharmaram Vidya Kshetram, three years ago.  The two began planning immediately.  They recruited Agnes Brazal from the Philippines, Sharon Bong from Malaysia, and Robert Gascoigne from Australia.  With them they developed a network of consultation and collaboration.

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Fr. Cyprian Davis, RIP

This is, by now, old news, but I don't think we've had a chance to discuss it yet here at dotCommonweal. Fr. Cyprian Davis, OSB, a monk of St. Meinrad archabbey in Indiana, died on May 18 at the age of 84. His 1990 book, The History of Black Catholics in the United States is one of a handful (no matter how small your handful may be) of essential historical works about the American Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church was African before it was European.  What became the US Catholic Church was Black and Spanish-speaking for nearly a century before the first English-speaking Catholics arrived.  Black Catholics were (and are), of necessity, a largely lay-lead community, often appealing (successfully) to Rome for support when they were confronted by racist behavior from local bishops, priests and seminary rectors.  Recovering and retelling all that history---and more---was at the heart of Fr. Davis' work.

In his preface to The History of Black Catholics in the United States, Fr. Davis wrote, "(T)oo often the presence of black Catholics through the centuries has been a muted one, a silent witness, an unspoken testimony.  It is the historian's task to make the past speak, to highlight what has been hidden, and to retrieve a mislaid memory."

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Prophecy and Prose

Pope Francis’ recent speech in Bolivia has rekindled the debate over Pope Francis’ views on economics and inequality.  Francis’ defenders have argued that the pope is merely offering a robust presentation of Catholic social teaching.  His more fevered critics see him as a herald of a resurgent Marxism.

The frustrating thing about this debate is that it usually operates at a level of abstraction, as if the choices facing policymakers really did boil down to a choice between capitalism and, well, something else.  To a great extent, this reflects the penchant of American conservatives branding even modest efforts to redress economic inequality as “socialism.”

As fond as I am of Francis, however, I think the pope also bears some responsibility for this.  Phrases like an “economy that kills” and “an economy of exclusion” remind me of John Paul II’s “culture of death” and Benedict XVI’s “culture of relativism.”  In none of these cases do I find the phrases adequately descriptive of the phenomenon in question or analytically helpful in developing remedies.

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Fighting a Firing in Philadelphia

The first tuition payment for the 2015-2016 school year at Waldron Mercy Academy in Philadelphia is due Wednesday. How many families will choose to meet this deadline, however, is unclear. A number in this tight-knit community of parents plan to withhold payment to protest the recent firing of long-time religious education director Margie Winters.

Winters’s dismissal shares some similarities with the firings of staff and teachers from Catholic schools around the country in recent years: personal details (in this case, a same-sex marriage) come to light; a disapproving parent lodges a complaint; a beloved figure is relieved of duties; students and parents rally in support. While such movements may lose steam in the face of long odds against reinstatement, the parent community of Waldron thinks it can keep the pressure up through the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia so that it will still be an issue when Pope Francis visits in September. And an open letter to Francis from Winters’s wife, Andrea Vettori, that is now being shared across social media and news outlets is providing further energy. “Waldron is a community that acts when there is a crisis,” said Diana Moro, who is in charge of the Facebook page StandWithMargie, which has garnered more than 10,000 likes in just over a week.

How realistic are their hopes?

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Capitalists to Pope Francis: What about us?

Pope Francis's in-flight press conferences--freewheeling, unscripted, even unredacted (at least for the moment)--have produced quite a bit of news. Who could forget "Who am I to judge?" Or the time the pope said that a friend who talks smack about his mom "is going to get a punch in the nose"? Reporters know that asking Francis the right question in just the right way might elicit a headline-worthy response. No surprise, then, that on the flight back to Rome following the pope's visit to South America, where he took globalization to the woodshed, a couple of enterprising reporters wanted to talk economics. Roll tape.

Noting how often Francis had spoken of the poor over the past several days, one German journalist wanted to know why the pope didn't say more about "the middle class, that is, the working people, the people who pay taxes, normal people, like the Greeks." All right, he didn't actually mention the Greeks. He did, however, want to know the pope's message for those non-abnormal, responsible payers of taxes.

Instead of asking the reporter whether he realized that Bolivia--where he delivered his stinging rebuke to purveyors of globalization--is the poorest country in South America, that 60 percent of its 8 million residents live below the poverty line, a quarter of them in extreme poverty, Francis responded graciously: "Thank you very much, that is a nice correction. You are right, that is a mistake on my part. I have to think about that." The Catholic News Agency made it sound like Francis had never considered this before: "You're right, I'll have to come up with something!" But Francis didn't quite say that, and he wasn't done answering the question.

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Papal Allergies

In his prepared remarks to Representatives of Paraguay's Civil Society yesterday, Pope Francis said:

A fundamental part of helping the poor involves the way we see them.  An ideological approach is useless: it ends up using the poor in the service of other political or personal interests (Evangelii Gaudium, 199).  To really help them, the first thing is for us to be truly concerned for their persons, valuing them for their goodness.  Valuing them, however, also means being ready to learn from them.  The poor have much to teach us about humanity, goodness and sacrifice.  As Christians, we have an additional reason to love and serve the poor; for in them we see the face and the flesh of Christ, who made himself poor so to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9).

But, as always with Francis, his off the cuff additions provide both insight and bemusement. Inés San Martín of Crux fills in the picture:

“Ideologies end badly, they do not work because they have a relationship that is either incomplete, or sick or wrong with the people,” Francis said. “Look at the last century, what ideologies ended in: Dictatorships, always.”

Francis then said that ideologies think of the people, but don’t let the people think, everything for the people but nothing with the people.

And this intriguing glimpse behind the smiling face:

He then “admitted” that he gets allergies, “a running nose,” when people such as politicians give grandiose speeches but “when I meet these people, I can’t help thinking ‘what a big liar you are'."

Havana and Washington -- please keep the Kleenex ready!

Pope Francis delivers 'little encyclical' in Bolivia.

Pope Francis's address to the World Meeting of the Popular Movements in Bolivia on Thursday was described as a "little encyclical" by the editor of L'Osservatore Romano. Given its breadth and rhetorical power, that seems about right. Initial reports emphasized the pope's apology for the church's "many grave sins...committed against the native peoples of America," and of course that would receive some attention, given that it plays into the idea of the Catholic Church as unyielding. But the remark came late in the speech, following a withering critique of a globalized economy that operates on the "mentality of profit at any price" without concern for "social exclusion or the destruction of nature."

Do we realize, Francis asked, "that something is wrong in a world where there are so many farmworkers without land, so many families without a home, so many laborers without rights, so many persons whose dignity is not respected?" He referred to these "three Ls"--land, lodging and labor--as "sacred rights." And, lest anyone wonder whether the Argentine pope was laboring under a benighted idea of capitalism, Francis made it clear that he was not just talking about the economies of Bolivia and its neighbors. No, "I am speaking about problems common to all Latin Americans and, more generally, to humanity as a whole." This system is "intolerable," he continued, echoing his encyclical on the environment, Laudato si': "Farmworkers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, peoples find it intolerable… The earth itself--our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis would say--also finds it intolerable."

Time is short, the pope declared. The planet and its people are suffering; we need change now. "Behind all this pain, death and destruction there is the stench of what Basil of Caesarea--one of the first theologians of the church--called 'the dung of the devil.' An unfettered pursuit of money rules. This is the 'dung of the devil.'" Pace David Brooks, Francis failed to mention the free market's wonderful ability to "harness self-interest" and put it to good, that is to say profitable, use. No, he has witnessed the system's failures firsthand, in the slums of Buenos Aires, in his travels as the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics, "I have sensed an expectation, a longing, a yearning for change, in people throughout the world."

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Farewell Pune, Hello Bangalore

Before leaving Pune, I attended a meeting that Sr. Julie George hosted for some diocesan leaders to discuss ways to engage parishes in Pune on Laudato Si’.  Specifically, they designed plans to help parishes be prepared for Pope Francis’ UN General Assembly Address on the environment on September 25th.

Sr. Julie, a lawyer and activist, heads Streevani (meaning, “the voice of women”), a legal aid center that advocates for domestic workers.   Julie gets things done.  7 years ago she helped start the “Women’s Religious Lawyers Forum.”  She helped to recruit over 90 Indian sisters working in law.  The forum “Pursuit of Justice: Prophetic Response to our times” was so successful that it just finished its seventh annual gathering.  Her partner in crime is Raynah Braganza Passanha, the leader of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement, dedicated to gender equity.   We will continue to work with one another virtually.

Yesterday, I arrived in Bangalore, the IT capital of India, where everyone is young.  In 2001, the city had a population of just over 5 million.  Today, 14 years later, it has more than doubled, with nearly 11 million of India’s 1.3 billion residents.  The city is a work in progress, a microcosm of the development across India.  When I first came here in 2007, I arrived in a tiny airport with one waiting hall.  When I last left here in 2012, the hour long trek to the airport included dirt and unpaved roads.  Yesterday I arrived in a major airport and the ride into the city was on a seamless highway.

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Pope Francis's U.S. itinerary.

As you may have heard, the bishop of Rome will be vacationing in the United States in a few months. This morning, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops finally released his itinerary. Should you want to go full groupie, here are the relevant details:

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 23 (WASHINGTON, D.C.)

9:15  a.m.  Meeting with President Obama at the White House
11:30 a.m. Midday Prayer with the bishops of the United States, St. Matthew's Cathedral
4:15  p.m.  Mass of Canonization of Junipero Serra, Basilicia of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

 

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24 (WASHINGTON, D.C., NEW YORK CITY)

9:20  a.m.  Address to Joint Session of the United States Congress
11:15 a.m. Visit to St. Patrick in the City and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington
4:00 p.m.   Depart from Joint Base Andrews
5:00 p.m.   Arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport
6:45 p.m.   Evening Prayer (Vespers) at St. Patrick's Cathedral

 

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 25 (NEW YORK CITY)

8:30  a.m. Visit to the United Nations and Address to the United Nations General Assembly
11:30 a.m. Multi-religious service at 9/11 Memorial and Museum, World Trade Center
4:00  p.m.  Visit to Our Lady Queen of Angels School, East Harlem
6:00  p.m.  Mass at Madison Square Garden

 

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 26 (NEW YORK CITY, PHILADELPHIA)

8:40  a.m.  Departure from John F. Kennedy International Airport
9:30  a.m.  Arrival at Atlantic Aviation, Philadelphia
10:30 a.m. Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia
4:45  p.m.  Visit to Independence Mall
7:30  p.m.  Visit to the Festival of Families Benjamin Franklin Parkway

 

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27 (PHILADELPHIA)

9:15   a.m.  Meeting with bishops at at St. Martin's Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary
11:00  a.m. Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility
4:00  p.m.   Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families, Benjamin Franklin Parkway
7:00   p.m.  Visit with organizers, volunteers and benefactors of the World Meeting of Families, Atlantic Aviation
8:00   p.m.  Departure for Rome

Calm, collected.

Faced with the Supreme Court's decision to make same-sex marriage the law of the land, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, predictably expressed his displeasure:

Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.... Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children.

Other bishops, however, took another tone. Calling the majority decision in Obergefell "particularly painful," Cardinal Seán O'Malley of Boston urged Catholics to "both protect our own deeply held values and participate with civility and charity in the continuing national discussion about this decision."

In a longer reflection on the decision, Cardinal Donald Wuerl reminded his people that "Christians have the responsibility to learn and to grow in their faith in order to share it with others"--without barring the church door to those who struggle with the church's definition of marriage. They too must be welcomed.

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Carbon Fasting

In my last post, I remarked that the archdiocese of Bombay had started the practice of carbon fasting for its Lenten practice of 2014 and repeated it in 2015.  I received in a variety of ways many positive responses to the blog.  While I know we are a long way from Lent, still in the wake of Laudato Si,’ we are being asked to change our ways immediately and carbon fasting seems like an exercise that can get us started.

In 2014, the Bombay archdiocese posted on their website a booklet, entitled “40 earth-saving ways to fast this lent.”  It is a simple set of reminders to reduce one’s carbon foot-print each year.   The archdiocese also made an app available that would text daily very specific practices to follow. 

Carbon fasting brings us into the world of an asceticism that’s mindful of our place in our environment.  This mindfulness helps to develop, I think, a new humility.  Prompted by the Magnificat, I have long defined humility as knowing one’s place in God’s world.  Carbon fasting helps us then to develop a 21st century humility, making us more mindful of our place in God’s creation.

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Forgiveness & the Flag

Hearing the names of the nine victims in Charleston read at Mass on Sunday, it was hard not to hear as well the statements of forgiveness from their survivors made at last Friday’s bond hearing for the shooter, Dylann Roof. “I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you” – the words of Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance – became the headline of Saturday’s print edition of The New York Times, but it’s the clips of Collier and others in court that truly convey the power of the moment, the grace of those whose loved ones were taken. It’s impossible not to be moved, or even awed—as a number of pundits admitted to being when the footage was aired.

Inevitably, much has been written and said about “forgiveness” in the days since, some of it by Cornell West. In an appearance Monday on New York public radio he called the survivors’ statements of forgiveness, and the favorable response to them, “bad theology.” The forgiveness, he said, “is premature… We have to put love at the center of this but forgiveness is something that comes further down the line… [This] has remnants of the niggerized Christianity that has been operating in the history of the black church….” Of course, provocation is West’s main mode. But his co-guest on the segment, Amy Butler of Riverside Church, allowed that he was getting at something important. The survivors’ words of forgiveness, she said, “are deeply moving but they call us to something deeper, and they remind us of a sin in our country that cannot be ignored anymore… [A] voice of remorse also needs to come from a system and a nation….”

The possibility of forgiveness from family members is one issue; the possibility (if not the likelihood) of its appropriation and use as absolution from any further responsibility for or concern with the underlying causes of the attack is another.

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'Peripheral' Sources for 'Laudato Si’ '

Pope Francis’s new environmental encyclical cites the usual sources. In addition to Scripture, we find the documents of the Second Vatican Council, the encyclicals and addresses of his papal predecessors, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, his own Evangelii Gaudium, and others.

Most surprising, however, is Francis’s turn to the documents of national and regional bishops’ conferences.  He cites one USCCB document (no. 52), one from the Canadians (no. 85), two from the Germans (nos. 48 and 69), and one from the Portuguese (no. 159). I counted twenty-one references to environmental documents from episcopal conferences.  Only the five mentioned above represent North America and Europe. The remaining sixteen refer to documents from bishops’ conferences in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.  Twice he cites the Latin American Bishops’ 2007 Aparecida document, on which he worked (nos. 38 and 54).

These references are doubly striking.  First, Pope Francis is the self-proclaimed “man from the end of the world,” who appoints new cardinals from places many Americans have never heard of.  As the pope of the periphery, Francis does not treat such questions as the environment and the family exclusively, or even primarily, in terms of perspectives dominant in Washington, Bonn, London, or even Rome. He wants to hear the voices of the churches from the Global South. Americans are going to have to get used to the fact that they make up only about 4% of the world’s Catholics. As this encyclical makes clear, Pope Francis does not map easily on to the landscape of cultural and political strife in the United States. His upcoming visits to Washington and Philadelphia will, I suspect, make this even clearer.

Second, these twenty-one references to teaching documents of episcopal conferences signal Francis’s own vision that the church of which he is chief pastor and teacher is a collegial body.

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“Indian Ambassadors of the Environment” or “Reading Laudato Si’ in downtown Pune”

In this morning’s Sakaal Times, Pune’s Bishop Thomas Dabre, while promoting Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’, added that his diocese would promote greater austerity and sustainability measures across Pune.

His response caught the general reaction of Catholics here in India. In fact all the major newspapers, The Times of India, The Indian Express, and The Sakaal Times covered the encyclical’s launch favorably. Interestingly the only dissenting voice reported in the newspapers was Jeb Bush’s!

Indian Catholics already recognize the need to respond to climate change. For instance, Sr. Julia George, SSPS, a lawyer who advocates for women domestic workers told me that women bear the brunt of environmental challenges in India. In rural and urban areas, women are the ones who need to find and carry the water, for instance, that is needed for their families or for those for whom they work. As the environment worsens, so does the plight of women throughout India.

Sr. Nameeta, OCV, a physician from Mumbai, asks, "Can we sing a Canticle of Praise to the Lord, when we wound Mother Earth everyday? This is an enigma. The encyclical exposes our hypocrisy."  Like other Catholics, she believes deeply that the time for the encyclical is now.

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A Tale of Two Churches

Understanding last night's massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, where a young white man entered one of the city's oldest historically black churches and shot to death nine people who were participating in a prayer meeting, requires understanding the intersection of race and religion in the American South, and that is no small matter.

I know this difficulty firsthand: about two years ago I moved with my family to Tallahassee, Florida, and in the past few months we stopped attending the large, predominantly white parish on the north side of town where we enrolled as parishioners when we first moved in, and are now going instead to a small parish on the city's south side where the congregation at the English-language Mass is so predominantly black that ours is often the only white family in attendance.

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'Laudato Si' ': Response Roundup

Here’s a mid-day roundup of response to Laudato Si’ from around the web (if you've already made sure to read Anthony Annett, David Cloutier, Michael Peppard, and Massimo Faggioli on Commonweal). Start with E. J. Dionne Jr., who, in a column posted to our website, says anyone who claims Francis is inventing radical new doctrines

will have to reckon with the care he takes in paying homage to his predecessors, particularly Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II. He cites them over and over on the limits of markets and the urgency of environmental stewardship. Laudato Si’ is thus thoroughly consistent with over a century of modern Catholic social teaching, and if it breaks new ground, it does so within the context of a long tradition -- going back to St. Francis himself.

Similarly, Emma Green in The Atlantic:

Historical references  …  are peppered throughout the document, and they serve as an important reminder to an often-giddy media that loves to write about today’s revolutionary pope: In the Church, precedent is everything. Francis’s argument is deeply grounded in Catholic teachings dating back to the late-19th-century writings of Pope Leo XIII (and before that, Jesus). … This is far from the Church’s first foray into environmentalism. “I always remind my environmental friends that St. Francis was ours before he was theirs,” said John Carr, a professor at Georgetown and former staffer at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “This didn’t begin with Earth Day or Al Gore. It began with Genesis.”

R. R. Reno at First Things:

In this encyclical, Francis expresses strikingly anti-scientific, anti-technological, and anti-progressive sentiments. In fact, this is perhaps the most anti-modern encyclical since the Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX’s haughty 1864 dismissal of the conceits of the modern era. … Francis has penned a cri de coeur, a dark reflection on the systemic evils of modernity. Like the prophet Ezekiel, Pope Francis sees perversion and decadence in a global system dominated by those who consume and destroy. The only answer is repentance, “deep change,” and a “bold cultural revolution.” If Francis continues in this trajectory, Catholicism will circle back to its older, more adversarial relationship with modernity.

But Josiah Neely, also at First Things, calls Laudato Si' “a more measured affair” that deserves fuller reading: “[T]here seems to be a fairly large disconnect between the criticism of (much of it made prior to the release of the actual text) and the encyclical itself.”

Francis X. Rocca in the Wall St. Journal zeroes in on “passionate language likely to prove highly divisive” and characterizes Laudato Si’ as abroad and uncompromising indictment of the global market economy.” 

What, George Weigel asks, does Francis write in the encyclical?

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Pope Francis's Earthquake

Laudato Si' offers two long-lasting gifts to the church. Through the body of the text, Francis first exhorts us to examine and renew our commitments to God, one another, and "our common home" on earth through an "integral ecology." But the footnotes of the text tell another story, related but distinct from the first. Francis has shown how the Pope can honor and foster collegiality and synodality among the world's Christian leaders.

Those aren't household words, but the concepts are simple enough. Collegiality refers to "the Pope governing the Church in collaboration with the bishops of the local Churches, respecting their proper autonomy."  Synodality is "the practical expression of the participation of the local Church in the governance of the universal Church, through deliberative bodies."

The extent to which Francis manifests these concepts in Laudato Si' is breathtaking. He cites seventeen different bishops' conferences or regional meetings (some of them more than once) from six continents. In order of appearance, they represent: Southern Africa, the Philippines, Bolivia, Germany, Argentina, the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean, Canada, Japan, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, New Zealand, the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, Portugal, Mexico, and Australia.

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