Thursday, December 26, 2013

Can you be too religious?

Can you be too religious?
When considering this question, note that Jesus himself was hostile to religiosity – and that fundamentalists suffer from a lack of faith
o    Giles Fraser
o, Tuesday 24 December 2013 09.00 GMT

Actually, I seriously dislike the words religion and religious. First, there is no such thing as generic religiosity. There are Christians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus. No one practises religion, as such. And second, precisely because the word "religion" describes the common outward format through which these very different belief systems express themselves, it cannot describe each in its specificity. This is particularly tricky when it comes to Christianity, because at its heart is a figure who was thoroughly suspicious and condemnatory of religion. "Jesus came to abolish religion," says the Washington-based poet and evangelist Jefferson Bethke. His YouTube poem Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus received 16 million views within two weeks of it being released.He's right: the New Testament must be one of the most thoroughly anti-religious books ever written. It makes Richard Dawkins look very tame fare indeed.

Jesus spent much of his time laying into the pious and the holy and lambasting the religious professionals of his day. And this was not because he was anti-Jewish – as some superficial readings of his anti-Pharisee, anti-Sadducee, anti-Temple polemics would have it – but precisely because, as a Jew himself, he came out of that very Jewish prophetic tradition of fierce hostility to religiosity. Here, for instance, is the prophet Isaiah on feisty form.

The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me? says the Lord.
I have more than enough of
 burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me. New moons, sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
This is the sort of theology to which Jesus looked for inspiration. And partly, it was this uncompromising anti-religiosity that got him nailed to a cross.
You may think I am being slippery with the word "religion". So let's take, for instance, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim's influential definition of religion as that which divides up the world into the sacred and the profane. But here again, the Jesus stories have him as thoroughly anti-religious, not least in those narratives that surround his birth. For the idea that God might be found not in the spiritually antiseptic space of some sacred temple, but in the smelly cow shed out the back, is about ashostile an idea to religion as one can possibly imagine. When it comes to Christianity, just being a little bit religious is being too religious. Religion is a pejorative term. So the answer is yes.

Of course, I'd say you cannot be too Christian. That's a different kettle of fish. And if "being too Christian" makes you think of Christian fundamentalists, I'd want to insist that they are simply not Christian enough. Indeed, that it's their lack of faith that makes them cling to a bogus form of certainty and literalism. Mostly, Christian fundamentalists worship a book. They like the safety of having pat answers. But this is just another form of idolatry of which the Hebrew scriptures regularly warn. Worshipping a book and worshipping God are two totally different things. Falling down before a baby, with all the inversion of power that this implies, takes courage not intellectual suicide. It is about the world being turned upside-down, the mighty (including the religious mighty) being cast down and the weak being held up. It is about placing something other than oneself at the centre of the world. And no, I don't think there can be too much of this.

Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus || Spoken Word

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Theology and candles

When most of us cradle Christians first learnt the word ‘sin’, it was in the context of our being naughty children. Human cultures use God-language as a sanction mechanism, an emotional blackmail making us feel awful when we do not conform. Very easily the guilt feelings lose contact with objective right and wrong. A certain sort of Catholicism was very good at this, obsessing about doubtful issues of sexual morality, and remaining blind to major issues of truth and justice. As a wise woman once told me, ‘Catholics know a great deal about guilt, and very little about sin’.

 December 2013

From ‘The Immaculate Conception’ by Velazquez
From ‘The Immaculate Conception’ by Velazquez

Theology and Candles: Original Sin and Immaculate Conception

Philip Endean SJ

Philip Endean SJ is Professor of Spirituality at Centre Sèvres, Paris

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception honours the doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin. Philip Endean SJ delves into the mystery at the heart of this feast. What questions does it pose about sin and the human condition, and can we answer these questions with theology?

this article
in PDF
  In the early 1980s, the late and much loved Kevin Donovan SJ
went part-time on the faculty at Heythrop College in order to become a parish priest in north London. The opening line of his first lecture after the move ran: ‘Now that I’m working in a parish, I’m coming to realise that theology is as important as candles.’
Just let that line sink in. It might mean that theology is trivial, a waste of time; it could be suggesting that theology at its best is an act of worship. The irony hints at how churchy activity of any kind is always dealing with far more than it can really handle. And yet the juxtaposition also jangles: life with candles and life with high theology, as in different ways both Kevin and his students were realising, do not quite fit together.
When we speak of Mary as conceived without original sin, we are using a theological idea—original sin—to name a reality of faith more naturally expressed by lighting a candle. And the theology does not quite work.
Look at Pius IX’s 1854 Apostolic Constitution
, declaring that this long-established devotion was ‘a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful’. Pius begins by evoking ‘the lamentable wretchedness of the entire human race which would have resulted from the sin of Adam’. Then he tells the gospel story of Christ becoming human, a member of that race.
Pius’s rhetorical skills—in ways that do not come through in the standard English translation—enable him to dodge talking directly about Jesus’s humanity, and indeed about Mary’s. What God prepares is referred to, not as a female of the human species, but as a ‘Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate … ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect’. Carefully, Pius and his officials are steering round what in plain language could only appear a contradiction: All humans are caught up in Adam’s sin; Mary is human; but Mary is not caught up in sin.
Typically, devotion to Mary is candle stuff: you do not ask too many questions. Whether articulated throughsublimely beautiful
expressions of high culture
, or through more popular
, even mawkish
genres, it centres on feeling: ‘Lady, flow’r of everything
’; ‘ Virgin most pure, star of the sea/Pray for the wand’rer, pray for me
.’ Such veneration goes back early in the Church, at least to the Council of Ephesus (431)
, which proclaimed Mary as the theotokos—‘god-bearer’. Then, translation into Latin gave us something warmer and even more provocative: ‘mother of God’. Before we knew where we were, we were caught up in de Maria numquam satis
: loosely, ‘nothing is too good for Mary’. In Western Christianity at least, however, such Marian exuberance had to live alongside another strong tradition, one driven more by theory and the head. Shortly before the Council of Ephesus, and independently, St Augustine
was reflecting on the scope of Christ’s saving work, and its relationship to our good behaviour. Starting from the practice of infant baptism, he developed a theology of original sin. This was a matter of logic: baptism is for the forgiveness of sins; we baptise babies; babies cannot actually sin; therefore babies—however much we want to coo at them—must be tainted by an inherited sin.
For Augustine, and many figures subsequently, original sin affected Mary like everyone else. Perhaps because the Augustinian teaching was so pessimistic about the general human condition without Christ’s grace, a counterbalancing impulse about goodness focused so strongly on Mary. At any rate, officialdom only intervened when the tensions started causing problems.
Initially, these interventions were minimalist. In 1483, Sixtus IV
noted that certain Dominicans, while accepting a liturgy centred on Mary’s conception, were claiming that it was heretical or sinful to claim that this conception was ‘without the stain of original sin’. Sixtus condemned this negative teaching, and encouraged belief in the Immaculate Conception. But significantly, he stopped short of a positive affirmation; the critics of the doctrine were merely showing ‘irresponsible boldness’ rather than being wrong. Sixtus was simply keeping options open: the matter had ‘not yet been decided by the Roman Church and the Apostolic See’. For its part, the Council of Trent,
while reaffirming the effect of Adam’s sin on all humanity, declared ‘that it is not its intention to include in this decree dealing with original sin the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God’. On both these occasions, the Church’s teaching office was recognising a logical problem and steering round it. And when Pius IX in 1854 finally declared the doctrine to be revealed by God, his fulsome rhetoric, as we have already noted, avoided being explicit on how the problem could be resolved. Maybe it was just a Vatican variant on the proverbial marginal note to sermons: ‘argument weak, shout louder’; maybe Pius, or one of his theologians, was pointing up subtly the need for further theological work. Such official codedness is an important skill of Church government.
Be all that as it may, Pius’s decision has been received and accepted, at least within Roman Catholicism. It seems somehow right that the early part of Advent should include a feast honouring Mary—even if journalists and some churchgoers become confused and think we are celebrating Jesus’s conception. The doctrine of original sin has become difficult, not just because of the contradictions between its main thrust and Mary’s freedom from it (to say nothing of Jesus’s), but also because of evolutionary theories, and a heightened sense of individual moral responsibility. Moreover, ecumenical and feminist concerns have tempered ultramontane Marian enthusiasms. Nevertheless, mainstream Catholics seem broadly comfortable with celebrating Mary’s creation. We look at the beautiful pictures; we hear the gospel of Mary’s receiving the angel’s message; and we quietly ignore the nagging questions arising about genetics. We light the candles anyway, and set the theology aside.
Perhaps naming issues such as these is as much as an article like this can sensibly do. The Church’s awareness of the mystery it embodies is, after all, a work in progress. Maybe all we can say is that celebrating Mary’s Immaculate Conception is a matter of collective instinct that we do not fully understand.
Indeed so. Equally, however, we should not be content with such a complacent strategy unless we really have no alternative. As far as possible, we should be able to give an account of our hope, both to our own integrity and to those who ask us. So let us try.
What do we in fact mean by ‘original sin’? Chesterton in his Orthodoxy
famously and waggishly claimed original sin to be ‘the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved’. Sin was a fact, ‘a fact as practical as potatoes.’ What needed argument was whether or not we could be ‘washed in miraculous waters’, whether we could move beyond the Christian denial of ‘the present union between God and man’. There was no doubt that humanity ‘wanted washing’.
Confronting Chesterton is a risky, indeed churlish business. Nevertheless he is stating as an obvious fact something which is far from being so. For the fact which really is ‘as plain as potatoes’ is simply that life is often unsatisfactory. But self-evident mess falls far short of the Christian mystery of sin. By calling the mess ‘sin’, we are making a statement of faith and hope: a statement that the mess, all too real though it is, does not thwart God’s purpose. God can deal with it. And this means we can let go of other ways of coping with the mess: blaming ourselves, scapegoating others, compulsive virtue, cynicism, or whatever.
When most of us cradle Christians first learnt the word ‘sin’, it was probably in the context of our being naughty children. Not only had we done something wrong, done damage, upset Mum; we had committed a sin, we had offended God, and we needed to put things right with Him. For all the familiarity here, nothing particularly Christian is yet being said. Human cultures typically use God-language as a sanction mechanism, an emotional blackmail making us feel awful when we do not conform. Very easily the guilt feelings lose contact with objective right and wrong. A certain sort of Catholicism was very good at this, obsessing about doubtful issues of sexual morality, and remaining blind to major issues of truth and justice. As a wise woman once told me, ‘Catholics know a great deal about guilt, and very little about sin’.

The Christian mystery of sin centres, not on questions of moral right and wrong, but on something else: the outrageous faith and hope that God can somehow put the mess right. Thus, any theologically proper move from mess to sin opens up a perspective of hope. We cannot sensibly talk about original sin at all unless we are prepared to imagine life without it. And it is that reality, at least in its beginnings, which the gospel sets before us. ‘Original sin’ makes no sense unless there is a yet more original grace.
Our standard formula, ‘Mary conceived without original sin’ presents Mary in logically negative terms, as someone without a problem. It starts from our difficulties, and takes them as a fixed basis from which we can explore holiness as an exceptional absence. There is, of course, a place for such thinking. Equally, Christianity has gone wrong if such thinking is all we have. For Christianity is about nothing if is not about our problematic selves being changed; as we explore the reality of holiness it makes a difference to us. The real conundrum is not one about how God can create a Jesus and Mary who do not share our problematic state, but rather about how God’s goodness can co-exist with a problematic creation, one in which the good is lacking.
There is no theological answer to that question. Some theologians have talked about ‘God respecting creaturely freedom’, but not in any way that really works. St Ignatius’s presentation of sin in Spiritual Exercises centres, not on a good confession, or an experience of forgiveness—still less on any sort of explanation. Instead he tries to lead to a place where we cry out in wonder:
How can it be that the world has carried on when there has been so much resistance to God? Why has God not just given up or junked us into Hell already?
 Christianity does not answer these questions. Instead it attests to a revelation: a revelation of divine goodness keeping these unanswerable questions open, a goodness promising hope, a goodness inviting us not really to understand but rather to join in. The light shines in the darkness, a light which the darkness cannot overpower, a light made manifest in Jesus and Mary without sin. Theologies about how and why fail, but the light—and the candles—remain. ###

Pope Francis - Changing Times

Times are changing under Pope Francis

  • Pope Francis leads a meeting with the poor in the archbishop's residence Oct. 4 in Assisi, Italy. The meeting was in the famous "stripping room," where St. Francis stripped off his rich clothes, gave them to his father and began a life of poverty dedicated to Christ. (CNS/Paul Haring)
Jeff Dietrich
 |  Dec. 6, 2013
[Jeff Dietrich has been a member of the L.A. Catholic Worker for over 40 years. His most recent book is Broken and Shared: Food, Dignity, and the Poor on Los Angeles' Skid Row
I have never expected to be affirmed for the work that I do. So it was shocking and a little disorienting to receive affirmation for my often-less-than-appreciated efforts from the very last place I would expect: the highest authority of the Roman Catholic church.
I have been working at the Catholic Worker soup kitchen on Los Angeles' Skid Row for over 40 years. I have published articles and books that have criticized prelates and politicians. I have occupied the cardinal's bell tower and his bulldozer to protest the exorbitant expense of a new cathedral. I have blockaded the mayor's bathroom, calling for porta-potties for the homeless. I have laid my body under city dump trucks to protect the personal property of the homeless from confiscation by city officials. I have gone to jail twice with the Occupy folks, protesting the excesses of Wall Street. I have always taken the part of marginal people, suffered the ire of the powerful, and felt the sting of being on the margins myself.
So I was thrilled to read Pope Francis' manifesto
sharply criticizing the excesses of capitalism, calling for "a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets." This is not the church I have known since my days at St. Mary's Grammar School. It sounded a bit like what I have been doing for the last 40 years. I felt like the spy who came in from the cold, the voice in the wilderness suddenly propelled from the margins to the center of the very church I have spent my entire adult life criticizing.
Now for the first time in my life, I could hear a voice within the institutional church that echoed my own. Pope Francis' two fundamental issues are the same as mine: "the inclusion of the poor in society and ... peace and social dialogue." His is a strident voice calling for priests to leave the confines of their cozy rectories and secure sanctuaries and head out to care for and defend the victims of unmerciful financial markets. It is a voice that is not afraid to attack the only true "religion" of our era: capitalism. He tells us that "everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless."
While I do not agree with every papal utterance, especially those regarding women and sexuality, this may be a revolution in rhetoric only with no official policies to make structural changes within ossified church structures. For instance, I don't expect the pope to sell off the treasures of the Vatican and give it to the poor anytime soon or to fire all of the conservative prelates appointed by his predecessor. But in the meantime, I don't care.
NCR subscribers are in for a treat: Our current edition includes a special section devoted to Saints--content you can't get online. Preview here
This is a pope who cooks his own food and refuses to fly first class, live in a papal palace, ride in a limousine or wear the royal trappings of his office. This is a pope who is the solitary world figure with institutional authority that has the temerity to speak out against the idolatry and misanthropic nature of the world capitalist system. This is the only world figure to speak out boldly against the systematic starvation of the poor.
This is a pope who occupies the bulliest of all bully pulpits in the world and has radically moved the discussion of Catholic theology from what happens below the waistline to what happens in the streets. And if nothing else happens, he has removed theological justification from every parish priest or bishop who wants to build an extravagant, unnecessary church or purchase sumptuous satin vestments. He has prevented Catholic legislators like John Boehner and Paul Ryan from wrapping Ayn Rand capitalism in the mantle of Catholic social teachings. He has ripped the mask of rectitude from the leaders of the developed world who can no longer preach trickle-down capitalism as if it were the gospel of salvation.
But most of all, he has given hope to the poor as well as to the lone voices in the wilderness, "bruised, hurting and dirty" from their thankless work for justice on the streets. They can now speak not only with the authority of Jesus and the Gospels, but with the authority of the Roman Catholic church itself. Finally, the message of those in the margin has been heard in the halls of power. As one of my favorite poets once said: "The times, they are a-changin'." ###

Nelson Mandela

"Mandela Will Never Die!"-by Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

Mandela Will Never Die!

 – Fr. Cedric Prakash sj

Nelson Mandela is no more! And hopefully, Mandela will never die!

The Mandela era finally came to an end last night (Dec. 5th 2013)-and its time for all of us to reflect on what this one man has contributed towards making our world a more human and harmonious place.

When one looks back at the struggles he faced as a child, as a youth and later on as an elder statesman, one is simply amazed by the sheer grit and determination which characterised one of the contemporary world’s greatest figures. A large part of Mandela’s life was spent in isolation during his life sentence in the infamous Robben Island Jail. The torture he was subjected to would make any mortal give up, but with his' never-say-die' spirit, Mandela finally came out to freedom and  to a new world in 1990; a few years later,  he became the first democratically elected President of South Africa.

His extraordinary life teaches us three key lessons:

·         if the spirit is strong- it will ultimately triumph, despite the powers and vested interests doing everything to subjugate one.

·         the belief that a non-violent struggle is the only and sure way to achieve results – something he learnt from Mahatma Gandhi.

·         divisiveness of any kind ( particularly racism) definitely has no place in a world which is becoming more and more a globalised village. Mandela believed that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and  though we are different in several ways, we are all equal.

At this moment much is being written and debated about Mandela’s legacy to the 20th & 21st century. The hard fact however remains that despite being an icon and an inspiration for millions across the world several parts continue to be ravaged with violence, hatred and divisiveness.

 Let us take Gujarat in India, for example, which gave to the world Mahatma Gandhi – one of the greatest apostles of non-violence. If one is a Muslim in Gujarat today, one is confined to specific ghettos or areas across the State. This is sadly evident in the commercial capital Ahmedabad, where a Muslim finds it impossible to buy or rent a house or a commercial establishment in the Western up-market part of the city. The tragedy is that the institutionalisation of this practice is very easily accepted by the majority community. In a State which projects itself  as ‘vibrant’ this is a blatant form of apartheid indeed!

Mandela fought against the segregation of the blacks in his native South Africa. He had to endure much because of this but then as history shows us, truth ultimately triumphed over falsehood. He is someone to be emulated. His unflagging spirit gave him the courage to speak truth to power; he did not care about the consequences that followed. What mattered most for him was that all men and women – whether black or white, rich or poor, should be able to live together, walk hand-in-hand and work side-by-side, accepting always the dignity of the other. The great thing about Mandela was his ability not to harbour any rancour or revenge for his white oppressors. He forgave unconditionally and that is why he was able to usher in a new South Africa with a hope of a better future.

The world has truly lost one of  its greatest sons! As we join in the mourning -the best way  to pay tribute to 'Madiba' is to "celebrate" the fact that he gave SO MUCH to this world-It  is therefore important  that each one of us wherever we are, try to do our best to realise his vision,to continue the legacy he has left us- in the simple, small ordinary events of our daily life.

 And if we sincerely do so- Mandela will never die!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pastor Joel Osteen's Full Sermon "The Power of 'I Am'" - Oprah's Lifecla...

Shot for Going to School in pakistan BBC documentary 2013

The story of Malala Yousafzai

Pope asks to meet reformed Indian killer

Pope asks to meet reformed Indian killer

Man who stabbed a nun invited to Vatican.
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Samunder Signh will travel to the Vatican to meet the pope

Eighteen years after Samunder Singh stabbed and murdered a Catholic nun in northern India, the former prisoner has been invited to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for Family, invited Singh after the pope expressed his desire to meet him. Accompanying him will be a Catholic priest and a nun, the younger sister of the slain Rani Maria.

“I am excited after getting the news," 40-year old Singh told

Singh, who with the guidance of the Catholic priest became a Christian while serving a 12-year jail term, is busy preparing his travel documents.

The priest, popularly known as Swami Sadanand, was instrumental in counseling Singh after the killing. The Carmelite of Mary Immaculate regularly met him in jail.

The invitation to the Vatican is to attend a special screening of a documentary on the killing, called The Heart of a Murderer, by award winning Australian-Italian director Catherine McGilvray.

The documentary depicts the murder, Singh's conversion and his acceptance by the murdered nun's family. McGilvray, in an interview, said when she first heard the story, she was moved by the images of "the mother kissing her daughter’s murderer and of the assassin becoming like a real brother to the sister of his victim."

Pope Francis was reportedly moved by the film.

The family of the slain nun had publically forgiven him and accepted him as one of their family members. Every year on the Hindu festival of siblings, the sister of Rani Maria ties a rakhi, or ceremonial thread, onto Singh. The ritual is a common practice among siblings.
The murdered nun was declared a Servant of God, the first major step toward canonization, in 2007.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


News Updates;
Happy Feast of St.Francis Xavier!

Dear  All,
Mother Teresa Memorial Award
Fr Cedric Prakash was awarded ‘Mother Teresa memorial Award for Social Justice 2013” by ‘The Harmony Foundation’ on 27 October 2013 at the Leela Hotel, Mumbai.

Here is the MP3 version of an Interview (Part 1)with  Fr.Cedric Prakash by Radio Vatican which was aired on Thursday 28th November 
Part 2 will be aired on Thursday 5th December. Congratulations Fr.Cedric.

Celebrating Social Communications The Golden Jubilee of “Inter Mirifica”

Celebrating Social Communications
The Golden Jubilee of “Inter Mirifica”

-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

December 4th 2013 is the Golden Jubilee of “Inter Mirifica” (the Decree on the means of Social Communications) which is a key document in the life and message of the Second Vatican Council.  The Golden Jubilee coming in exactly ten days after the “official” closing of the ‘Year of Faith’ is symbolic indeed:it opens up new doors and avenues for all!

Inter Mirifica focuses on the role of communications and the responsibility of the Church to monitor it.  “The Church, our mother, knows that if these media are properly used they can be of considerable benefit to mankind.  They contribute greatly to the enlargement and enrichment of men’s minds and to the propagation and consolidation of the kingdom of God. But the Church also knows that man can use them in ways that are contrary to the Creator’s design and damaging to himself. Indeed, she grieves with a mother’s sorrow at the harm all too often inflicted on society by their misuse.” (#2)

The document for the very first time brings in the whole realm of social communications within the Church.  Fr. Franz-Josef Eilers, svd, the former Executive Secretary of the FABC OSC in an article, “Called to be a Communicating Church” says, “When the Vatican II document “Inter Mirifica” was presented to the Council fathers in 1962 it had right in the beginning a footnote which proposed to use the expression “Social Communication”. Following a suggestion of the late Fr. Enrico Baragli, sj the preparatory commission for the document proposed this new expression because they felt that names like mass media, media of diffusion, audio-visual media would not be sufficient to express fully the concern of the Church in the field of communication. This was unanimously accepted without further detailed discussion and the expression became the official ‘label’ for the Church’s communication activities.”

There is another specificity of “Inter Mirifica”: Vatican II for the first time designated for theUniversal Church a special day and that is the observance of a day for communications.  “To make the Church’s multiple apostolates in the field of social communication more effective, a day is to be set aside each year in every diocese, at the bishop’s discretion, on which the faithful will be reminded of their duties in this domain.” (#18).  This was later changed to ‘World Communications Day’ (normally the Sunday before Pentecost; but in India we observe it on the Sunday before the Feast of Christ the King).  This path-breaking document not only ensured the establishment of an Office for Social Communications in the Church but also for very powerful and relevant messages issued by the Holy Father every year, which is released to the world on January 24th, the Feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron of Church Communications. 

In September last, Pope Francis while addressing the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in Rome said “the Decree (Inter Mirifica) expresses the Church’s solicitude for communication in all its forms which are important tools in the work of evangelization”. He went on further to say, “the world of Communications, more and more has become an ‘environment’ for many, one in which people communicate with one another expanding their possibilities for knowledge and relationship. I wish to underline these positive aspects notwithstanding the limits and the harmful factors that also exist and which we are all aware of.”

It is significant therefore that in January 2004, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) at their meeting in Trichur gave to the Church in India plenty of food for thought and action in their statement “Called to be a Communicating Church”. 

In this Golden Year of ‘Social Communications’, all of us are challenged to reflect and act urgently on many critical dimensions of this all-pervasive ministry.  These include:

  • have we as Church taken Social Communications seriously?
  • have we understood its power and potential in our works of evangelization?
  • do we have a Social Communications Commission in our diocese?  (the Commission should necessarily constitute persons from all walks of life and these should include lay professionals in communications)
  • do we have competent spokesperson/s in our diocese?
  • do we engage as Church vocally and visibly in confronting injustices that plague our society like discrimination, displacement, corruption, communalism, casteism, etc? 
  • have we prophetically denounced the grave ills in our society in order to boldly proclaim the ‘good news’? 
  • do we engage in social media on important issues concerning Constitutional rights and freedoms of all?

These and several other concerns can be raised - all of them have been reflected in Inter Mirifica and in the many pastoral messages written on Communications by the Holy Father every year. 

It is therefore not without reason that Pope Francis has chosen as theme for his first message on World Communications Day 2014 “Communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter”. The Pontifical Council for Social Communications says that “this will explore the potential of communication especially in a networked and connected world, to bring people closer to each other and to cooperate in the task of building a more just world.” 

This theme in fact truly reflects all that Inter Mirifica is about: “the proper exercise of this right (to information) demands that the content of the communication be true and – within the limits set by justice and charity – complete.” (#5) and “all the members of the Church should make a concerted effort to ensure that the means of communication are put at the service of the multiple forms of the apostolate without delay and as energetically as possible, where and when they are needed. They should forestall projects likely to prove harmful, especially in those regions where moral and religious progress would require their intervention more urgently.” (#13)

We have indeed a clarion call to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Inter Mirifica by ensuring that the Church’s Teachings on Social Communications are put into practice at every level.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hans Kung on Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis

Hans Kung on Evangelii Gaudium

Pope Francis' text is a call for church reform at all levels, says Hans Küng
The Tablet
29 November 2013
Church reform is forging ahead. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis not only intensifies his criticism of capitalism and the fact that money rules the world, but speaks out clearly in favour of church reform “at all levels”. He specifically advocates structural reforms – namely, decentralisation towards local dioceses and communities, reform of the papal office, upgrading the laity and against excessive clericalism, in favour of a more effective presence of women in the Church, above all in the decision-making bodies. And he comes out equally clearly in favour of ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, especially with Judaism and Islam.
All this will meet with wide approval far beyond the Catholic Church. His undifferentiated rejection of abortion and women’s ordination will, however, probably provoke criticism. This is where the dogmatic limits of this Pope become apparent. Or is he perhaps under pressure from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and its Prefect, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller?  
In a long guest contribution in Osservatore Romano (23 October 2013), Müller demonstrated his ultra-conservative stance by corroborating the exclusion of remarried divorcees from the sacraments who, unless they live togetheras brother and sister (!), are ostensibly in a state of mortal sin on account of the sexual character of their relationship.
As Bishop of Regensburg, Müller, as a clerical hardliner who provoked numerous conflicts with parish priests and theologians, lay bodies and the Central Committee of German Catholics, was as controversial and unpopular as his brother bishop at Limburg. That Müller, as a loyal supporter and publisher of his collected works, was nevertheless appointed CDF Prefect by Papa Ratzinger, surprised people less than the fact that Pope Francis confirmed him in office quite so soon.
And worried observers are already asking whether Pope Emeritus Ratzinger is in fact operating as a kind of “shadow Pope” behind the scenes through Archbishop Müller and Georg Gänswein, [Benedict’s] secretary and Prefect of the Papal Household, whom he also promoted to archbishop. One remembers how in 1993 Ratzinger as cardinal whistled back the then-bishops of Freiburg (Oskar Saier), Rottenburg-Stuttgart (Walter Kasper) and Mainz (Karl Lehmann) when they suggested a pragmatic solution for the problem of remarried divorcees. It is revealing that the present debate 20 years later was again triggered by the Archbishop of Freiburg, namely Robert Zollitsch, the president of the German bishops’ conference. It was Zollitsch who ventured a fresh attempt to re-think pastoral practice as far as remarried divorcees are concerned. And Pope Francis?
For many the situation is self-contradictory – on the one side, church reform and on the other, remarried divorcees.
The Pope wants to move forward – the CDF prefect puts on the brakes.
The Pope has actual people in mind – the prefect above all has traditional Catholic doctrine in mind.
The Pope wants to practise mercy – the prefect appeals to God’s holiness and justice.
The Pope wants the coming bishops’ synod on family matters in October 2014 to find practical solutions based on feedback from the laity – the prefect draws on traditionalist dogmatic arguments in order to be able to maintain the unmerciful status quo.
The Pope wants the bishops’ synod to make new attempts at reform – the prefect, a former neoscholastic professor of dogmatics, thinks his statements can nip any such attempts in the bud.
Is the Pope still in control of his Guardian of the Faith?
As to the subject itself, one must point out the following: Jesus came out quite clearly against divorce. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9). But he said that above all for the benefit of women, who were legally and socially disadvantaged in comparison to men in society at the time, because in Judaism only husbands could have letters of divorce made out. And thus in following Jesus, the Catholic Church, even in a completely different social situation, will emphatically champion the indissolubility of marriage which guarantees the partners and their children a stable and lasting relationship.
But Archbishop Müller obviously ignores the fact that Jesus pronounced a commandment based on an aim. As with other commandments, this one does not exclude failure and forgiveness. Can one really imagine Jesus sanctioning the present way we treat remarried divorcees? This Jesus who protected the adultress particularly against the scribes and pharisees (John 8:1-11), who especially devoted himself to sinners and those who had failed in life, and even dared to declare that they were forgiven? The Pope rightly says “Jesus must be freed from the boring templates in which we have wrapped him [translation from the Küng’s German].”
The Christians of the New Testament did not understand Jesus’ words on divorce as a law but as an ethical directive. The failure of a marriage obviously did not correspond to what men and women were created for. Only dogmatic rigidity, however, cannot take seriously that already in the days of the Apostles, Jesus’ words on divorce were applied with a certain flexibility, namely in cases of “porneia/unchastity” (cf. Matthew 5:32; 19:9) and when a Christian and a nonbeliever separated (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:12-15). Already in the Early Church, one was obviously aware that there were situations when a further life together was unacceptable. However, to assume that remarried divorcees in general just casually and light-heartedly gave up their first marriages for trivial reasons is malicious.
There is no more bitter experience than the failure of a love relationship on which one has set the hopes of a lifetime. In view of the millions of Catholics the world over nowadays who, although they are members of the Church, cannot take part in its sacramental life, it is of little help to keep quoting one Vatican document after the other without convincingly answering the decisive question as to why there should be no forgiveness just for this particular failure. Hasn’t the Magisterium already failed miserably as far as contraception is concerned and thus been unable to assert itself in the Church? A similar failure in the question of divorce should be avoided at all costs.
It is at any rate no solution if one calls for fresh “pastoral efforts” and wants to see annulments handled more generously, as the archbishop has suggested. For many Catholics, divorce and remarriage are not the real scandal but the shameless hypocrisy of many annulments, even when the couple whose marriage is annulled have several children.
Given the actual number of divorces at the moment, which in Germany alone in 2012 was about 46 per cent in proportion to the number of weddings in the same year, and if one adds to that the increasing number of Catholic couples who only married in a registry office or are cohabiting, then in all probability, in Germany alone, roughly 50 per cent of Catholics are excluded from the sacraments. And we should not forget the many children who are affected and suffer under their parents’ disturbed relationship with the Church. We are thus concerned with pastoral problems which have far-reaching consequences and which today call the official Church’s – but also the Pope’s – credibility into question. That is why, in the light of generally available findings in the fields of the social sciences, sexology, the history of theology, ethics, dogmatics and exegesis, bishops have repeatedly cautioned that it is absolutely imperative to undertake a reappraisal of pastoral practice.
It was precisely the reactionary strategy of the CDF which led to the present church crisis and triggered the exit of millions of Catholics from the Church, particularly the remarried divorcees as they were excluded from the sacraments. It would hugely damage the Catholic Church if, 50 years after the Second Vatican Council, a new “Cardinal Ottaviani”, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – or rather of the Holy Office or Inquisition, were able to establish himself in the Vatican, and who feels called to impose his conservative beliefs on the Pope, the Council and indeed on the whole Church.
And it would immensely damage the credibility of Pope Francis if the reactionaries in the Vatican were to prevent him from translating his words and gestures, which are so permeated by mercy and a sense for pastoral work, into action as soon as possible. The enormous capital of credibility which the Pope has accumulated in the first months of his papacy must not be squandered by the curia. Innumerable Catholics hope:
-      That the Pope will see through the Guardian of the Faith’s – that is Müller’s – questionable theological and pastoral stance;
-      That he will put the CDF in its place and make his theologically based pastoral line obligatory;
-      That the praiseworthy questioning of bishops and laity with regard to the coming Family Synod will lead to clear, biblically-founded and realistic decisions.
Pope Francis has the necessary qualities of a captain to steer the ship of the Church through the storms of our time and the trust of the People of God will uphold him. In the face of strong curial headwinds, he will probably often have to take a zigzag course. But we hope he will steer his ship by the Gospel’s (and not canon law’s) compass and maintain a clear course in the direction of renewal, ecumenism and open-mindedness. Evangelii Gaudium is an important stage of that voyage but by far not the final goal.Read Evangelii Gaudium