March 28, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 39

The heavily footnoted 39th section of Gaudium et Spes concludes this current chapter, by looking to the end times and expressing that universal longing for peace and life, and freedom from sin and death.

We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity,(cf. Acts 1:7) nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away;(cf. 1 Cor. 7:31; St. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, V, 36, PG, VIII, 1221) but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide,(cf. 2 Cor. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:13) and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart.(cf. 1 Cor. 2:9; Apoc. 21:4-5) Then, with death overcome, the (children) of God will be raised up in Christ, and what was sown in weakness and corruption will be invested with incorruptibility.(cf. 1 Cor. 15:42 and 53) Enduring with charity and its fruits,(cf. 1 Cor. 13:8; 3:14) all that creation(cf. Rom. 8:19-21) which God made on (humankind's) account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity.

Heaven is a stimulation, the Council teaches, for the transformation of the modern world in whatever way believers can effect it. The "foreshadowing" mentioned below inplies that activity to restore the world into a graced balanced, however flawed that might be in intention or result, is a participation of sorts in the coming Reign of God, as realized in its truest final form:

Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a (person) nothing (to) gain the whole world and lose (him- or her)self,(cf. Luke 9:25) the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age.

It's a concern to God, that much is clear:

Hence, while earthly progress must be carefully distinguished from the growth of Christ's kingdom, to the extent that the former can contribute to the better ordering of human society, it is of vital concern to the Kingdom of God.(Cf. Pius XI, encyclical letter Quadragesimo Anno: AAS 23 (1931), p. 207)

What we receive at the end of our lives, at the end of time, will be familiar to those who work for these ideals:

For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, (communion) and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: "a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace."(Preface of the Feast of Christ the King) On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.


March 27, 2006

Guest Blog: The Ecumenical Call to Social Justice Work

When the SRS editors asked me to consider how Christians and Jews have worked together to advance the cause of social justice, I thought immediately of the historic struggle for civil rights in this country. I thought of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, and of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (both of blessed memory), and of Rabbi Heschel's famous assertion that when he marched with Dr. King in Alabama he was praying with his feet. In the words of Harold Schulweis, these "two men from different geographies, color, creed, theological background were joined in a spiritual kinship whose legacy address[es] our own times."

Their admirable work inspired the current generation of social justice movers-and-shakers. Who's carrying on the legacy of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel in today's world?

One answer is the Shalom Center, under the stewardship of Rabbi Arthur Waskow. The Shalom Center helped give rise to the Tent of Abraham, "a gathering of Jews, Christians, and Muslims who have been building a 'Tent' of shared spiritual concern for peace, justice, and healing of the earth." (Here's their mission statement).

Among their projects is God's October Surprise, a "call to share sacred seasons" which began last fall and will continue in 2006 and 2007. In this rare convergence of calendars, these Octobers mark the confluence of the sacred Muslim lunar month of Ramadan and the sacred Jewish lunar month of Tishrei (which includes the High Holy Days), the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and World-wide (Protestant/Orthodox) Communion Sunday. The month was marked with a series of events, and will be again over the coming two years; there's tremendous opportunity for ecumenical social justice work here. (If this kind of thing inspires you, don't miss The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, a new book due from Beacon Press in July, written by Rabbi Waskow, Joan Chittister OSB, and Sufi scholar Saadi Shakur Chisti).

Also noteworthy is Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq, a multifaith organization of clergy and layfolk who oppose the Iraq war and who agitate for peace and justice. Their official existence began last April 4 at Riverside Church; the date was chosen in memory of Dr. King (and with the intent of continuing his legacy). They've written an open letter to the President, held a multireligious tent revival on Independence Mall and staged a civil disobedience action (those latter two events are described by "prisoner 151" here).

Another place to look for ecumenical social justice work is Rabbi Michael Lerner's Tikkun (both the magazine, and the community). They describe themselves as "an international community of people of many faiths calling for social justice and political freedom in the context of new structures of work, caring communities, and democratic social and economic arrangements."

One of the Tikkun community's projects is the Network of Spiritual Progressives (you can read about their core vision here). They're holding a Spiritual Activism Conference in May, designed to be an ecumenical and interfaith experience which will bring together social justice-minded folks across the religious spectrum.

(I can't resist here putting in a plug for the Progressive Faith Blog Con, a July gathering for liberal religious bloggers which is also designed to be interfaith, and which will surely have a social justice component. I'm one of the organizers, and don't want to hijack this post to promote the event -- if you're interested, read more about planned programming here).

Those of us who care about social justice care about it deeply, but there aren't nearly enough of us to achieve the work that needs to be done. I'd like to see more people involved in this important work -- not just those of us on the liberal fringes of our traditions, but everyone who identifies themselves as a Christian or a Jew. How can we bring this dream to fruition? I think one answer lies in our scriptures.

The verse most often repeated in Torah is "love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Out of this arises one of Judaism's most central teachings about the way God wants us to live. We must live in a way that empowers the marginalized, protects the vulnerable, clothes the naked and feeds the hungry -- a way that enacts the mitzvat ha-borei, the mitzvah of the creator, to love our neighbors, our "others" as ourselves.

Though I'm no expert on the Christian Scriptures, I know that the gospel of Matthew contains a pivotal passage about separating the sheep from the goats. Jesus will separate, the text tells us, those who fed him when he was hungry, and clothed him when he was naked, and welcomed him when he was a stranger, from those who did not. When his followers ask, baffled, when they could have done these things, he argues famously that when we do these things for the least of his brethren, we do them for him.

Jews and Christians both hear the call to be active in "the care and redemption of all that God has made." We need to set aside our doctrinal differences, our history of disagreement about thorny theological subjects like the nature of God and redemption from sin, and focus on our traditions' common teachings about the imperative to heal the world. Redeeming creation from its brokenness is some of the most valuable work we can do. And as the famous quotation from Pirkei Avot holds, "it is not incumbent upon us to finish the task, but neither are we free to refrain from beginning it."

- - -

Rachel Barenblat is a rabbinic student in the ALEPH Rabbinic Program and an accomplished writer in a variety of genres, including poetry and liturgy. She maintains the popular blog Velveteen Rabbi and also contributes to Radical Torah, a collaborative blog which takes a look at the Torah through the lens of progressive religious and political viewpoints. Rachel is part of the Jewish Renewal tradition, and she is the shaliach tzibbur (services-leader) at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue in North Adams, MA.

March 26, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 38

Gaudium et Spes 38 addresses some of the recent concerns expressed in the comment boxes on my blog.

For God's Word, through Whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh and dwelt on the earth of men.(cf. John 1:3 and 14) Thus He entered the world's history as a perfect man, taking that history up into Himself and summarizing it.(cf. Eph. 1:10) He Himself revealed to us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8) and at the same time taught us that the new command of love was the basic law of human perfection and hence of to worlds transformation.

Human perfection--that's a high ideal. It's also an ideal that's not without hope:

To those, therefore, who believe in divine love, He gives assurance that the way of love lies open to (people) and that the effort to establish a universal (family) is not a hopeless one. He cautions them at the same time that this charity is not something to be reserved for important matters, but must be pursued chiefly in the ordinary circumstances of life. Undergoing death itself for all of us sinners,(cf. John 3:16; Rom. 5:8) He taught us by example that we too must shoulder that cross which the world and the flesh inflict upon those who search after peace and justice. Appointed Lord by His resurrection and given plenary power in heaven and on earth,(cf. Acts 2:36; Matt. 28:18) Christ is now at work in the hearts of (people) through the energy of His Holy Spirit, arousing not only a desire for the age to come, but by that very fact animating, purifying and strengthening those noble longings too by which the human family makes its life more human and strives to render the whole earth submissive to this goal.

The council bishops also recognize that not every individual possesses the same calling. However, every bliever shares that ideal endpoint in God's salvific plan.

Now, the gifts of the Spirit are diverse: while He calls some to give clear witness to the desire for a heavenly home and to keep that desire green among the human family, He summons others to dedicate themselves to the earthly service of (others) and to make ready the material of the celestial realm by this ministry of theirs. Yet He frees all of them so that by putting aside love of self and bringing all earthly resources into the service of human life they can devote themselves to that future when humanity itself will become an offering accepted by God.(cf. Rom. 15:16)

The celebration of the Eucharist is seen as an indispensible part of the life of believers. It is also a symbol of the way in which human activity can be steered and changed by God for a greater good.

The Lord left behind a pledge of this hope and strength for life's journey in that sacrament of faith where natural elements refined by man are gloriously changed into His Body and Blood, providing a meal of (familial) solidarity and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

Ohio's 6th District

St. Sen. Charlie Wilson (D-Bridgeport) is running for Congress in Ohio's 6th congressional district, a seat that's been vacated by Rep. Ted Strickland (D), who is running for governor. St. Sen. Wilson has repeatedly been endorsed by Ohio Right to Life, which adds a twist to the usual debate between pro-life Republican Catholics on the one hand and pro-choice Democratic Catholics on the other. Of course his opponent, St. Rep. Chuck Blasdel (R-East Liverpool), has also been repeatedly endorsed by Ohio Right to Life.

March 25, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 37

Gaudium et Spes 37 discusses the shadow side of progress:

Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true (family). In our own day, the magnified power of humanity threatens to destroy the race itself.

Lack of concern for others: the danger of the age. GS frames their analysis of the world's sin as being that of selfishness. Not a direct rebellion against God, necessarily, but a lack of concern for those harmed by selfish actions. Recalling Matthew 22:39, Jesus did equate the two loves as being alike.

For a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested.(cf. Matt. 24:13; 13:24-30 and 36-43) Caught in this conflict, (humankind) is obliged to wrestle constantly if (it) is to cling to what is good, nor can (it) achieve (its) own integrity without great efforts and the help of God's grace.

Always on guard, it seems. I'm struck by the likeness with addiction recovery here. Recovering addicts acknowledge they are still addicts, though in a state of recovery.

That is why Christ's Church, trusting in the design of the Creator, acknowledges that human progress can serve (humankind's) true happiness, yet she cannot help echoing the Apostle's warning: "Be not conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2). Here by the world is meant that spirit of vanity and malice which transforms into an instrument of sin those human energies intended for the service of God and (people).

God's will is that human beings find happiness in their own works, but cannot find a purity of contentment outside of God.

Hence if anyone wants to know how this unhappy situation can be overcome, Christians will tell (them) that all human activity, constantly imperiled by (human) pride and deranged self-love, must be purified and perfected by the power of Christ's cross and resurrection. For redeemed by Christ and made a new creature in the Holy Spirit, (human beings are) able to love the things themselves created by God, and ought to do so. (They) can receive them from God and respect and reverence them as flowing constantly from the hand of God. Grateful to (their) Benefactor for these creatures, using and enjoying them in detachment and liberty of spirit, (people are) led forward into a true possession of them, as having nothing, yet possessing all things.(cf. 2 Cor. 6:10) "All are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's" (1 Cor. 3:22-23).

My reading of this is that the imitation of Christ can always be fruitfully brought into human endeavor. Love and reverence for things can express that quality God desires most strongly from the created world: gratitude. The promise is that detachment, therefore liberty, promotes true possession. I suppose the extreme counterexample is when things begin to possess us by the agency of our own sins. Thoughts?

Gaudium et Spes 36

Gaudium et Spes 36 addresses the common fear that the Church is an agent for the stifling of the human spirit as opposed to a supporter of human endeavor:

Now many of our contemporaries seem to fear that a closer bond between human activity and religion will work against the independence of (people), of societies, or of the sciences.

As with anything, individual human beings do work to thwart human expression in a sinful way. Some of these human beings reside in the Church, where they may wreak havoc in the name of the same Church.

If by the autonomy of earthly affairs we mean that created things and societies themselves enjoy their own laws and values which must be gradually deciphered, put to use, and regulated by (people), then it is entirely right to demand that autonomy. Such is not merely required by modern (humanity), but harmonizes also with the will of the Creator. For by the very circumstance of their having been created, all things are endowed with their own stability, truth, goodness, proper laws and order. (Humankind) must respect these as (it) isolates them by the appropriate methods of the individual sciences or arts. Therefore if methodical investigation within every branch of learning is carried out in a genuinely scientific manner and in accord with moral norms, it never truly conflicts with faith, for earthly matters and the concerns of faith derive from the same God. (cf. First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, Chapter III: Denz. 1785-1186 (3004-3005))

For the skeptic, the Church is in a position to labor to prove its words. The past statement I found interesting on two fronts. First, the notion that aspects of God's creation possess qualities, notably truth. Truth as a philosophical concept or ontological one is a quality of a scientific or artistic aspect of the universe. The obvious scientific item of the past would be the heliocentric model of the universe as championed by Galileo. Of the last century would be the elaboration of Darwin in developing the evolutionary model, and how it applies not only to biological creatures, but cosmology, geology, and perhaps even economics, to mention just a few disciplines.

Artistically (and my second point of interest is the pairing of sciences and the arts) one might find that music contains certain truths as well. Religious chant might have an artistic and scientific basis for producing a certain psychological state of mind--a state conducive to prayer. It would be found that other forms of music, aside from Gregorian chant say, would have a comparable or superior effect. That would be a truth, an aspect of God's creation, that would be undeniable.

Indeed whoever labors to penetrate the secrets of reality with a humble and steady mind, even though (she or) he is unaware of the fact, is nevertheless being led by the hand of God, who holds all things in existence, and gives them their identity.

A consciousness of the agency of God in one's work is not required for such work to be part of God's plan.

Consequently, we cannot but deplore certain habits of mind, which are sometimes found too among Christians, which do not sufficiently attend to the rightful independence of science and which, from the arguments and controversies they spark, lead many minds to conclude that faith and science are mutually opposed.(
Cf. Msgr. Pio Paschini, Vita e opere di Galileo Galilei, 2 volumes, Vatican Press (1964))

Remember where we found this.

But if the expression, the independence of temporal affairs, is taken to mean that created things do not depend on God, and that (humankind) can use them without any reference to their Creator, anyone who acknowledges God will see how false such a meaning is. For without the Creator the creature would disappear. For their part, however, all believers of whatever religion always hear His revealing voice in the discourse of creatures. When God is forgotten, however, the creature itself grows unintelligible.


March 24, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 35

Gaudium et Spes 35 fine tunes what was said earlier about the value of human activity on the plan of God. The improvement of individuals, groups, and society as a whole is a good thing. As individuals and groups transcend self-improvement, growth above and beyond the comfort zone is more valued than material riches:

Human activity, to be sure, takes its significance from its relationship to (humankind). Just as it proceeds from (them), so it is ordered toward (them). For when (people work they) not only alter things and society, (they develop themselves) as well. (They) learn much, (they) cultivate (their) resources, (they go) outside of (themselves) and beyond (themselves). Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. (People are) more precious for what (they are) than for what (they have). (cf. Paul VI, address to the diplomatic corps Jan 7 1965: AAS 57 (1965), p. 232)

This is especially true in matters of social justice. Medical advances, for example, are more valuable for the good they do than the profits they garner for owners, investors, and even workers. Advancement in sociology, in a better and more harmonious rendering of society in other words, is more valuable than technological improvement.

Similarly, all that (they) do to obtain greater justice, wider (communion), a more humane disposition of social relationships has greater worth than technical advances. For these advances can supply the material for human progress, but of themselves alone they can never actually bring it about.

Advancement without a heart: this is not progress, according to the Church.

Hence, the norm of human activity is this: that in accord with the divine plan and will, it harmonize with the genuine good of the human race, and that it allow (people) as individuals and as members of society to pursue their total vocation and fulfill it.

The final result is that individuals must be free to discern and pursue their path in life. The more human beings do this, the more advanced society becomes. Lacking such opportunities, we cannot truly say the world is better off today than fifty or a hundred years ago.

March 23, 2006

CPTers freed!

U.S., British Forces Rescue Iraq Hostages - Yahoo! News

The feet of those who brought good news were beautiful indeed as we learned that Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden and Jim Loney have been freed.

Yes, it was a multi-national military force that freed them, though without firing a shot. But, unlike the reporter stated on ABC World News Tonight, CPT is not without gratitude for those who freed them.

We are grateful to the soldiers who risked their lives to free Jim, Norman and Harmeet. As peacemakers who hold firm to our commitment to nonviolence, we are also deeply grateful that they fired no shots to free our colleagues.

As Rose Marie Berger points out,

It would be easy to pit the peacemaker against the soldier - but it would be wrong to do so. There are soldiers who serve "the least of these" in Iraq. It was an unknown American soldier who decided to drape Tom Fox's casket with a flag to honor his sacrifice. And there are peacemakers who thrive more on their own anger, self-righteousness, and personal purity, than on authentic deeply rooted sacrificial love.

We thank you, Most Holy Trinity, that our friends are free tonight. We thank you for all those who worked to bring about their freedom. We continue to pray for the soul of Tom Fox, who gave his life following your commands. We also continue to pray for the many, many Iraqis and foreigners who have been kidnapped, for the many Iraqis who have been arrested without cause, for the soldiers who are in danger, and most of all, for peace and an end to all violence.

Gaudium et Spes 34

Gaudium et Spes 34 raises an important consideration:

Throughout the course of the centuries, (people) have labored to better the circumstances of their lives through a monumental amount of individual and collective effort. To believers, this point is settled: considered in itself, this human activity accords with God's will. For (people), created to God's image, received a mandate to subject to (themselves) the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; (cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 9:3; Wis. 9:3) a mandate to relate (themselves) and the totality of things to Him Who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to (humankind), the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth. (cf. Ps. 8:7 and 10)

The concern in many minds is over this subjection. In the ancient world, people were at the mercy of weather, disease, famine, and other natural disasters to a far greater extent than they are today. Triumph over the wilds of nature was seen as a victory over evil. But human beings are considerably stronger than they were in biblical times. This mandate today would seem to shift from a victory by strength to a stewardship of wisdom, as the governance of the world "with justice and holiness" seems to indicate.

This mandate concerns the whole of everyday activity as well. For while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator's work, consulting the advantages of (others), and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization history of the divine plan. (cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), p. 297)

I'm not forwarding the notion that everyday lay activity is "ministry," but I think believers can see their work as participating in God's saving plan. This would be part of the root of the Church's philosophy of work.

This next part is important. I think it reveals a healthy approach to human development, namely that modern developments such as rationalism or technology or science are not by nature in opposition to God. The believer recognizes God's grace in the work of the world. Through daily work, the believer is also "bound" to put extra effort into evangelization and witness. Improving the life of a person, or the lives of people as a whole are seen as a participation in God's plan:

Thus, far from thinking that works produced by (human) talent and energy are in opposition to God's power, and that the rational creature exists as a kind of rival to the Creator, Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God's grace and the flowering of His own mysterious design. For the greater (humankind's) power becomes, the farther ... individual and community responsibility extends. Hence it is clear that (people) are not deterred by the Christian message from building up the world, or impelled to neglect the welfare of (others), but that they are rather more stringently bound to do these very things. (cf. message to all (humankind) sent by the Fathers at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, Oct. 20, 1962: AAS 54 (1962), p. 823)

Gaudium et Spes 33

It's the start of a new chapter for the Pastoral Constitution: "(Human) Activity Throughout the World." This is the last chapter before the Church turns to its own role. After that, particular issues will be covered in the last half of Gaudium et Spes.

Through (their) labors and (their) native endowments (humankind) has ceaselessly striven to better (their) life. Today, however, especially with the help of science and technology, (they have) extended (their) mastery over nearly the whole of nature and continues to do so. Thanks to increased opportunities for many kinds of social contact among nations, a human family is gradually recognizing that it comprises a single world community and is making itself so. Hence many benefits once looked for, especially from heavenly powers, (humankind) has now enterprisingly procured for (themselves).

A straightforward assessment of the improvement of the material situation for the world's people--many of them, at any rate.

In the face of these immense efforts which already preoccupy the whole human race, (people) agitate numerous questions among themselves. What is the meaning and value of this feverish activity? How should all these things be used? To the achievement of what goal are the strivings of individuals and societies heading? The Church guards the heritage of God's word and draws from it moral and religious principles without always having at hand the solution to particular problems. As such she desires to add the light of revealed truth to mankind's store of experience, so that the path which humanity has taken in recent times will not be a dark one.

Nothing surprising here. Human progress can only find meaning in light of God. The Church admits answers are not always forthcoming, but faith would tell us the search for the truth lies not exclusively in human betterment, but in the heritage of faith.

March 21, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 32

Section 32 concludes Chapter 2 of Gaudium et Spes, which was titled "The Community of (Hu)mankind." If there has been a bias toward the greater social needs in sections 23-32, it was because of the overall thrust of the chapter, not necessarily because of any kind of a reorientation to extroversion and public social work.

We have a theological and historical reality, namely that God saves people in communities:

As God did not create (people) for life in isolation, but for the formation of social unity, so also "it has pleased God to make (people) holy and save them not merely as individuals, without bond or link between them, but by making them into a single people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness."(cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chapter II, n. 9: AAS 57 (1965). pp. 12-13) So from the beginning of salvation history He has chosen (people) not just as individuals but as members of a certain community. Revealing His mind to them, God called these chosen ones "His people" (Ex. 3:7-12), and even made a covenant with them on Sinai.(cf. Exodus 24:1-8)

Consider the Scriptural witness; it contains interwoven stories about individuals called by God to intervene in human affairs and lasso a group of people into God's grace. Consider Abraham and his descendants, Joseph and famine relief, Moses and the freedom from slavery, Judith and her besieged city, and so on. Even the non-action figures wrote whole books on their meditations--Wisdom, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes were all penned by wise and spiritual authors who intended (it seems) to share their advice with a larger group of persons.

Jesus is naturally the example par excellence:

This communitarian character is developed and consummated in the work of Jesus Christ. For the very Word made flesh willed to share in the human fellowship. He was present at the wedding of Cana, visited the house of Zacchaeus, ate with publicans and sinners. He revealed the love of the Father and the sublime vocation of (humankind) in terms of the most common of social realities and by making use of the speech and the imagery of plain everyday life. Willingly obeying the laws of his country He sanctified those human ties, especially family ones, which are the source of social structures. He chose to lead the life proper to an artisan of His time and place.

More than his life's example, Jesus also preached community:

In His preaching He clearly taught the (children) of God to treat one another as (sisters and) brothers. In His prayers He pleaded that all His disciples might be "one." Indeed as the redeemer of all, He offered Himself for all even to point of death. "Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down (their) life for (their) friends" (John 15:13). He commanded His Apostles to preach to all peoples the Gospel's message that the human race was to become the Family of God, in which the fullness of the Law would be love.

I think of the witness of Christian saints in this light. Many saints led rather ordinary lives. But their example is promoted for imitation, itself a broadening of the individual calls each of them received from God. Jesus himself intended for a human community to be formed. It was to be a group of people more closely bonded than any other. Indeed, Christ's own body was upheld as an early prime example of the way in which this new community would function.

As the firstborn of many (sisters and brothers) and by the giving of His Spirit, He founded after His death and resurrection a new ... community composed of all those who receive Him in faith and in love. This He did through His Body. which is the Church. There everyone, as members one of the other would render mutual service according to the different gifts bestowed on each.

The role of the individual is to play her or his part. More than that, the Church is to consider itself always in need of reform, of greater perfection, of better effort, of striving for the ideal, which without God is unreachable.

This solidarity must be constantly increased until that day on which it will be brought to perfection. Then, saved by grace, (people) will offer flawless glory to God as a family beloved of God and of Christ their Brother.


Gaudium et Spes 31

Gaudium et Spes 31 approves of education, social service, and civic involvement. We need great souls, too. Isn't it the truth?

In order for individual(s) to discharge with greater exactness the obligations of their conscience toward themselves and the various group to which they belong, they must be carefully educated to a higher degree of culture through the use of the immense resources available today to the human race. Above all the education of youth from every social background has to be undertaken, so that there can be produced not only men and women of refined talents, but those great-souled persons who are so desperately required by our times.

The Council bishops are biased in favor of people of destiny. Heaven knows we need more such people, but I don't think this emphasis necessarily excludes the millions of quiet souls who work in their own small way for the Reign of God.

Now a (person) can scarcely arrive at the needed sense of responsibility, unless ... living conditions allow him (or her) to become conscious of his (or her) dignity, and to rise to destiny by spending him (or her-)self for God and for others. But human freedom is often crippled when (people) encounter extreme poverty just as it withers when (they) indulge in too many of life's comforts and imprison (themselves) in a kind of splendid isolation. Freedom acquires new strength, by contrast, when (people) consent to the unavoidable requirements of social life, take on the manifold demands of human partnership, and commit (themselves) to the service of the human community.

The Church is clearly saying we need to encourage a strong, public witness. Now more than ever.

Hence, the will to play one's role in common endeavors should be everywhere encouraged. Praise is due to those national procedures which allow the largest possible number of citizens to participate in public affairs with genuine freedom. Account must be taken, to be sure, of the actual conditions of each people and the decisiveness required by public authority. If every citizen is to feel inclined to take part in the activities of the various groups which make up the social body, these must offer advantages which will attract members and dispose them to serve others. We can justly consider that the future of humanity lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping.


March 20, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 30

Gaudium et Spes 30 starts with a caution of no more me-and-Jesus:

Profound and rapid changes make it more necessary that no one ignoring the trend of events or drugged by laziness, content him (or her-)self with a merely individualistic morality. It grows increasingly true that the obligations of justice and love are fulfilled only if (people), contributing to the common good, according to (their) own abilities and the needs of others, also (promote and assist) the public and private institutions dedicated to bettering the conditions of human life.

The betterment of the conditions of society: a task we share not as Christians only, but also as human citizens of the planet. The council bishops also were realists:

Yet there are those who, while possessing grand and rather noble sentiments, nevertheless in reality live always as if they cared nothing for the needs of society. Many in various places even make light of social laws and precepts, and do not hesitate to resort to various frauds and deceptions in avoiding just taxes or other debts due to society. Others think little of certain norms of social life, for example those designed for the protection of health, or laws establishing speed limits; they do not even avert to the fact that by such indifference they imperil their own life and that of others.

Let everyone consider it (a) sacred obligation to esteem and observe social necessities as belonging to the primary duties of (the) modern (person). For the more unified the world becomes, the more plainly do the offices of (people) extend beyond particular groups and spread by degrees to the whole world. But this development cannot occur unless individual(s) and their associations cultivate in themselves the moral and social virtues, and promote them in society; thus, with the needed help of divine grace (people) who are truly new and artisans of a new humanity can be forthcoming.

A reiteration of a previous theme: human beings cannot hope to make substantial progress in bettering humanity without attention to virtue. For the Christian, that also means attention to the relationship with God. We believe that God makes such things possible. It is God who allows us to disentangle ourselves from the consequences of sin (not to mention human error) and thus cooperate with the divine vision of the Reign of God.

Gaudium et Spes 29

Gaudium et Spes 29 seems tame, though there was a day when it would have read radical:

Since all (people) possess a rational soul and are created in God's likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition.

Hmm, all are redeemed. Okay. The basis of human rights is in the spiritual nature of the human being, as well as our creation in God's image. According to the Church, it holds true for women as well:

True, all (people) are not alike from the point of view of varying physical power and the diversity of intellectual and moral resources. Nevertheless, with respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent. For in truth it must still be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honored. Such is the case of a woman who is denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those recognized for men.

And an issue is raised: inequity amongst the world's people as a whole and within nations or groups. One could rightly ask the question if or when economic differences indeed cause scandal and thwart social justice. Our experience of the past several decades shows that social differences are indeed a factor that destabilizes society. A fearless and truthful diagnosis is needed to assuage (or overcome) the objections of those who claim that wealth is an earned right.

Therefore, although rightful differences exist between (people), the equal dignity of persons demands that a more humane and just condition of life be brought about. For excessive economic and social differences between the members of the one human family or population groups cause scandal, and militate against social justice, equity, the dignity of the human person, as well as social and international peace.

In the sphere of the laity, our task is laid down for us:

Human institutions, both private and public, must labor to minister to the dignity and purpose of (humankind). At the same time let them put up a stubborn fight against any kind of slavery, whether social or political, and safeguard the basic rights of (people) under every political system. Indeed human institutions themselves must be accommodated by degrees to the highest of all realities, spiritual ones, even though meanwhile, a long enough time will be required before they arrive at the desired goal.

Accommodation is a difficult road for the impatient. I don't think that believers can pussyfoot around ultimate goals in the dialogue with those who would tend to oppress human beings. But there is a wish to accomplish something substantive to improve the quality of human life in some way.

The prudential judgment on how fast is fast enough--this is a tough one. On the ever-present abortion issue, do believers accommodate a compromise which would save unborn lives, but keep legal abortion on the books? Gaudium et Spes would seem to suggest this is possible.


March 18, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 28

Gaudium et Spes 28 turns our attention to something of the questions raised about the last few posts on my blog site. It reminds me of the practical (and more charitable) approach we used with a family that kept applying for parish funds. Their real problem was not their limited income, but their inability to keep to a budget. So a parishioner volunteered to assist me and them in sitting down and managing their funds. It was a bit more complicated than handing them an envelope with a check--the maintenance of a band-aid solution for their woes. It was also declined. So we felt to particular obligation to give them money, and that was the end of it. People are free to decline a charitable act.

A person who engages in charity does have a responsibility to make the gift that would be most needed. Presumably, the person benefitting has some appropriate input. At a soup kitchen, one can hand out peanut butter sandwiches, for example. If one person claims a nut allergy, then maybe there's some cheese or jelly or a bit of cold cuts that will suffice. A suggestion to make a special pot of soup or grill a piece of steak wouldn't seem within the bounds of charity in most cases.

Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and even religious matters. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.

"Knowing" a person is scrounging off charity isn't enough. Knowing why would seem to place the giver in a more Christ-like place.

This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions.(cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), p. 299 and 300) God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts, for that reason He forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.(cf. Luke 6:37-38; Matt. 7:1-2; Rom. 2:1-11; 14:10 14: 10-12)

This is the distinction for which one of my Catholic Sensibility commentators might be searching. Charity is not blind to error, but it is blind to judgment; its mission is to assist with love (caritas et amor). On that note ...

The teaching of Christ even requires that we forgive injuries, (cf. Matt. 5:43-47) and extends the law of love to include every enemy, according to the command of the New Law: "You have heard that it was said: Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say to you: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you" (Matt. 5:43-44).


March 16, 2006

reaffirming preemption

In his September 13, 2002 letter to President Bush, then US Catholic Bishops Conference President Bishop Wilton D. Gregory asked some very prophetic questions:

Is it wise to dramatically expand traditional moral and legal limits on just cause to include preventive or preemptive uses of military force to overthrow threatening regimes or to deal with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? Should not a distinction be made between efforts to change unacceptable behavior of a government and efforts to end that government's existence? ...

Would preventive or preemptive force succeed in thwarting serious threats or, instead, provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent? How would another war in Iraq impact the civilian population, in the short- and long-term? How many more innocent people would suffer and die, or be left without homes, without basic necessities, without work? Would the United States and the international community commit to the arduous, long-term task of ensuring a just peace or would a post-Saddam Iraq continue to be plagued by civil conflict and repression, and continue to serve as a destabilizing force in the region? Would the use of military force lead to wider conflict and instability?
Why do I bring this up? Because I read in the Washington Post that our President has deemed fit to mark the 3rd Anniversary of the Iraq invasion by reaffirming our national commitment to the "doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons," as teh Post article says, "despite the troubled U.S. experience in Iraq."

"If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack," the document continues. "When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize."
It seems so clear to me that the only dangers in question are dangers to OUR citizens on OUR soil. Who cares if we throw the rest of the world into chaos and turmoil?

From the Catholic perspective this is wrong at its core … our brothers and sisters are ALL God's children, not just those with a US passport. But from a broader perspective it is also short sighted and counter productive. One need only look at the experience these past 3 years in Iraq (foreshadowed in Bishop Gregory's prophetic questions) to wonder if maybe, just maybe, our President's plan is not so wise, let alone just or even humane:
"We fight our enemies abroad instead of waiting for them to arrive in our country. We seek to shape the world, not merely be shaped by it; to influence events for the better instead of being at their mercy."
Is that what we've done, influenced events for the better? From this distance, it's hard to see how the daily lives of Iraqis are any better today than they were 3 years ago. And while massive terrorist attacks have not yet hit American soil, they will. And perhaps because of not in spite of our activities in Iraq. That's what I thought yesterday when I read this in an Associated Press Article:

The question of who is to blame for the Iraqi deaths has long been controversial. Some critics argue that with the United States and its allies unable to maintain order, Iraq has become a deadlier place for ordinary civilians than it was under Saddam Hussein. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman, acknowledged that possibility, but said future generations would enjoy better lives because of Iraq’s current hardships.
Hmmm… well if your home, neighborhood, school, workplace, family, friends, etc… were destroyed by American bombs and you faced chaos, death and destruction each day from the civil unrest left behind, I think it might be hard to think that way. Instead I think you'd be inclined to think like Sarmad Ahmad al-Azami, a 35 year old engineer quoted in the article.
His father died of a heart attack suffered during the U.S. bombing of a government palace next to his home in Baghdad’s Azamiyah section. A year later, al-Azami’s mother, 59, was killed in a car bombing. “Our family has been devastated,” al-Azami said. “Iraqis were living hard lives before this, but now things are much worse.”
Preemptive war …. something worth reaffirming?

March 15, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 27

The question was asked in a comment box on Catholic Sensibility about our duty to a neighbor who is able to work, but refuses. Such a thing might be offensive to a sense of fairness, but there are two problems with the example.

First, knowing that the person is indeed unwilling to work implies a relationship with knowledge. It is not something one can presume to judge from distant observation. And second, the act of charity is not wholly about the rendering of service to another in need. It is also about the journey to holiness of the giver.

Gaudium et Spes 27 teaches with the caution of hellfire and eternal suffering to back it up:

Coming down to practical and particularly urgent consequences, this council lays stress on reverence for (humankind); everyone must consider (their) every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all (their) life and the means necessary to living it with dignity,(cf. Jas. 2, 15-16) so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.(cf. Luke 16:18-31)

The present day is seen as a "special" circumstance where justice and charity are concerned. Over and over, the Vatican II documents discuss technological advances, communications breakthroughs, the political interconnectedness of nations, the threat of war and destruction. These circumstances merit a fresh look at the responsibilities and duties of the believer:

In our times a special obligation binds us to make ourselves the neighbor of every person without exception and of actively helping (them) when (they come) across our path, whether he (or she) be an old person abandoned by all, a foreign laborer unjustly looked down upon, a refugee, a child born of an unlawful union and wrongly suffering for a sin he (or she) did not commit, or a hungry person who disturbs our conscience by recalling the voice of the Lord, "As long as you did it for one of these the least of my (brothers and sisters), you did it for me" (Matt. 25:40).

Jesus is no less direct and forthright in Matthew 25 than he is in John 6. And just as the Real Presence of Christ is nourishment and inspiration to believers, so too is the encounter with Christ in the poor intended for our benefit as well. Part of the benefit is the notion that the uplifting of the poor and needy portion of the human race uplifts us all. And part is that we who lack few material things are in a position to relieve suffering. Or is our response that of Peter: denial followed by flight?

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where (people) are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.

I think a Catholic can make a valid prudential choice to avoid voting for a politician who supports abortion. But I think those who do will be hard-pressed not to make a similar assessment of politicians who support torment, coercion, insult, and arbitrary imprisonment.

The world today, more than ever, is in need of fearless and honorable leaders who will take the right stand and apply it though it would seem to weaken them.

March 14, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 26

I'll warn you if you're not ready, the Church includes in section 26 a "bill of rights and duties." Watch for it.

Every day human interdependence grows more tightly drawn and spreads by degrees over the whole world. As a result the common good, that is, the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment, today takes on an increasingly universal complexion and consequently involves rights and duties with respect to the whole human race. Every social group must take account of the needs and legitimate aspirations of other groups, and even of the general welfare of the entire human family. (Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961) )

That seems clear: every group has concerns outside of its own population, including the human race as a whole.

At the same time, however, there is a growing awareness of the exalted dignity proper to the human person, since (the person) stands above all things, and (the person's) rights and duties are universal and inviolable.

Here's the bill, though:

Therefore, there must be made available to all (people) everything necessary for leading a life truly human, such as ...
- food, clothing, and shelter;
- the right to choose a state of life freely and to found a family,
- the right to education,
- to employment,
- to a good reputation,
- to respect,
- to appropriate information,
- to activity in accord with the upright norm of one's own conscience,
- to protection of privacy and rightful freedom, even in matters religious.

Not a bad list; the rights to a good reputation and to respect are interesting, aren't they?

Hence, the social order and its development must invariably work to the benefit of the human person if the disposition of affairs is to be subordinate to the personal realm and not contrariwise, as the Lord indicated when He said that the Sabbath was made for (people), and not (people) for the Sabbath. (cf. Mark 2:27)

The theological realist would concede there is no hope for perfection on earth, but the Church insists that working to improve the human condition is not in vain. Indeed, the improvement and reform of society is an expected consequence of a progressive society:

This social order requires constant improvement It must be founded on truth, built on justice and animated by love; in freedom it should grow every day toward a more humane balance. (cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Pacem in Terris: AAS 55 (1963), p. 266) An improvement in attitudes and abundant changes in society will have to take place if these objectives are to be gained.

GS 26 concludes with the statement that God is concerned with our welfare, even those non-believers among us. The Church's concern is not rooted in some vague application of charity, but is impelled by Christ himself.

God's Spirit, Who with a marvelous providence directs the unfolding of time and renews the face of the earth, is not absent from this development. The ferment of the Gospel too has aroused and continues to arouse in (the human) heart the irresistible requirements of (human) dignity.


Magnifying God

Cross-posted to the Christian Alliance for Progress...

"My soul magnifies the Lord..." (Luke 1:46) This is a famous phrase among Christians and especially among Catholics like me. It's the beginning of the Canticle of Mary, traditionally referred to as the Magnificat, the song of praise that Mary offered to God proclaiming his fidelity to the promises of justice and mercy that he had made to Abraham and his descendants.

I couldn't help but think of Mary's Magnificat recently when I went to a free health clinic with a female relative who was trying to get help with buying her rather expensive medication. When we walked in, the first thing that struck me was how many women there were among the waiting patients. Since we were walk-ins and didn't have an appointment, we had to wait for quite some time, and I observed that an overwhelming majority of the patients who came and went were women. Many of these women were working women, some of them were disabled and couldn't work. A few of them were young women who had children with them, and a few of them were elderly women.

They join the 15% of American women who have no health insurance coverage, and many of them may be part of the 9.4% of American women who don't have a usual source of health care. Some of them may be among the 30% of women who have not recently had a mammogram or among the 21% of women who have not recently had a pap smear. I encourage readers to visit a free health clinic sometime soon; maybe you can volunteer some of your time, or find out if there's anything you can donate to help with the work they're doing. While you're there, be sure to look at the waiting patients and see those who give faces to the statistics I've presented here. These people are living human beings. They are our neighbors who we are not loving even as much as we love ourselves, and certainly not as much as God has loved us.

"My soul magnifies the Lord." To some, it would have been a scandalous thing for Mary to say. What is it about a Galilean peasant woman, the newly betrothed mother of a child who society will always look upon as having been conceived illegitimately, that could possibly magnify God? "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (John 1:46) If Mary had been speaking to the wealthy elite in Sepphoris, in Jerusalem, or in Rome, they would have laughed her all the way out of town. But she speaks to them and to generation after generation. She speaks of a God magnified by the poor, the marginalized, the socially insignificant. She speaks of a God magnified by women sitting in our free health clinics every day struggling to meet their own most basic health care needs and those of their families.

It should come as no surprise to us that the Son of Mary who we worship as God in the flesh would later say that "when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him," he will separate those who cared for "these least ones" from those who did not because the latter did not care for him. Those who did not care for the least ones will ask him when they did not care for him, and he will answer: "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me" (Matthew 25:31-46). We see echoes of the Magnificat in Jesus Christ's parable about the judgement of the nations; we see a God who is magnified by those who have no food, no drink, no shelter, no clothing, no friends, no health care, and no hope. We see a God who is magnified in the poor and vulnerable, in people who live in conditions just like the circumstances that Mary and her divine Son lived in. The Magnificat is the Gospel, and the Gospel is the Magnificat.

So what does it say about our so-called Christian nation that God in disguise is allowed to sit in free health clinics for hours, maybe to get a little bit of help or maybe to be turned away because she isn't quite destitute enough? You be the judge. In fact, we'd better all start being the judges -- because if we wait for God to judge our indifference and inaction, we might be hearing that unfortunate and surprising admonition: "Depart from me..."

March 13, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 25

Our look at the pastoral constitution of Vatican II continues:

(Human) social nature makes it evident that the progress of the human person and the advance of society itself hinge on one another. For the beginning, the subject and the goal of all social institutions is and must be the human person which for its part and by its very nature stands completely in need of social life. (cf. St. Thomas, 1 Ethica Lect. 1.) Since this social life is not something added on to (people), through (their) dealings with others, through reciprocal duties, and through ... dialogue (they develop all their) gifts and (are) able to rise to (their) destiny.

Dialogue is lauded as an essential task, and the appeal is to basic human sociology. A social life is not a graft onto an otherwise self-sufficient and independent individual. The Church teaches that dialogue is an essential part of the realization of full human potential. This would seem to be a rejection of the value of withdrawal from the world. Indeed, if the destiny of the Christian is evangelization to the ends of the earth (cf Matt 28:19-20) the outward thrust of dialogue is an essential component to the Christian life.

Among those social ties which (humankind) needs for (its) development some, like the family and political community, relate with greater immediacy to (its) innermost nature; others originate rather from (a) free decision. In our era, for various reasons, reciprocal ties and mutual dependencies increase day by day and give rise to a variety of associations and organizations, both public and private. This development, which is called socialization, while certainly not without its dangers, brings with it many advantages with respect to consolidating and increasing the qualities of the human person, and safeguarding (their) rights. (Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), p. 418. Cf. also Pius XI, encyclical letter Quadragesimo Anno: AAS 23 (1931), p. 222 ff.)

Settings outside of the family and the political sphere: these too are tools for the advance ment of the human person. The implication is that no group is of itself problematic for human development. Advantages and disadvantages must be weighed in the balance. But in all, the Church would approve of associations outside of the home and government.

The problems of evil are rooted not in particular associations, but in the life circumstances of a person. It is there that temptations arise and that our human tendency to sin is uncovered and nourished:

But if by this social life the human person is greatly aided in responding to ... destiny, even in its religious dimensions, it cannot be denied that (people) are often diverted from doing good and spurred toward and by the social circumstances in which they live and are immersed from their birth. To be sure the disturbances which so frequently occur in the social order result in part from the natural tensions of economic, political and social forms. But at a deeper level they flow from (human) pride and selfishness, which contaminate even the social sphere. When the structure of affairs is flawed by the consequences of sin, (humankind), already born with a bent toward evil, finds there new inducements to sin, which cannot be overcome without strenuous efforts and the assistance of grace.


March 12, 2006

America the Peasant Society

I've been reading Elizabeth A. Johnson's historical-theological approach to the Virgin Mary, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints. I just finished reading her description of the social, economic, and religious circumstances of Mary's time, and this is what Johnson has to say about Mary's peasant society on pages 145-146 of her book:

The ruler was really in a class by himself, with proprietary rights to property, water, and crops throughout his domain. The governing class, comprised of the nobility and members of court as well as lesser officials, surrounded the ruler's administration with an ambience of power and glory. Although comprising about one percent of the population, these two top classes were awash in the wealth of the national income: "the governing class and ruler together usually received not less than half." The retainer class was made up of scribes and bureaucrats as well as military personnel, about 5 percent of the population; they supported and defended the ruler and governing class, making their very existence possible. The wealthy merchant class and the priestly class rounded out the ranks of the privileged, allied as they were with the governing class. Overall the upper class comprised about 10 percent of the population. Most often they lived in urban communities.

On the other side of the chasm was the peasant class, numerically the largest group of all. Peasants were the fundamental engine of production, working the land, either their own little plot or the estates of wealthy landowners. "The burden of supporting the state and the privileged classes fell on the shoulders of the common people, and especially on the peasant farmers who constituted the majority of the population; . . . the great majority of the political elite sought to use the energies of the peasantry to the full, while depriving them of all but the basic necessities of life." Even these necessities could be sacrificed.

At the time, although I could draw parallels between what was going on in rural Galilee under the rule of the Roman Empire and the Herodian Dynasty and what's going on in America under the rule of the Republicans and Democrats, I didn't think we were on our way to becoming a peasant society. I didn't think so, that is, until I read a post from Beppeblog that I had saved some time ago with statistics about poverty in America. I was stunned to discover that the wealthiest one percent of the population controls 32.7% (or about one third) of the net worth in the United States, while many of the most vulnerable Americans are even deprived of the basic necessities of life. We are indeed on our way to becoming a peasant society. No, we're not a society based on agricultural peasantry; this has been replaced by industrial peasantry. Our society is remarkably similar to the one condemned by Jesus and his mother for its treatment of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Catholics have always been inspired by Mary, but somehow her longest and most powerful statement in scripture has been pushed to the sidelines. It's time for us to reclaim the Magnificat, with the realization that it is not just a statement that applies to Mary's time; it applies directly to our own. Our society is well on its way toward becoming the kind of society that Mary spoke so critically of, the kind of society that she and so many others looked forward to filling with God's liberating presence. We must not wait for God to disperse "the arrogant of mind and heart" or to throw down "the rulers from their thrones" and lift up the lowly; as the Mystical Body of Christ, we must realize that God is calling us to do this in his name. We are charged with being God's liberating presence in the world.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever (Luke 1:45-55).

March 11, 2006

"In grief we tremble before God..."

(picture from electronic iraq)

It is the news that many of us who have been praying for the four members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams kidnapped in Iraq most feared: the absence of Tom Fox on the videotape released on Tuesday was indeed because he is dead.

"Why are we here?" Tom Fox asked before he and his colleagues were abducted.

We are here to root out all aspects of dehumanization that exist within us. We are here to stand with those being dehumanized by oppressors and stand firm against that dehumanization. We are here to stop people, including ourselves, from dehumanizing any of God's children, no matter how much they dehumanize their own souls.

Into your hands, O Lord, we commend to you the soul of your servant, Tom Fox. May you have mercy upon him, and may you have mercy upon all those who dehumanize and are dehumanized.

Please continue to keep Norman Kember, James Loney and Harmeet Singh Sooden in your prayers that they may be released soon.

March 10, 2006

Official Religion In Missouri? Show Me

Some Missouri folks are concerned about legislation to make Christianity the "official religion" of Missouri. Nathan invited me to post on this. But first, I had to do a little digging. I discovered that it is not "legislation," per se, but a resolution. Here's the text:

Whereas, our forefathers of this great nation of the United States recognized a Christian God and used the principles afforded to us by Him as the founding principles of our nation; and

Whereas, as citizens of this great nation, we the majority also wish to exercise our constitutional right to acknowledge our Creator and give thanks for the many gifts provided by Him; and

Whereas, as elected officials we should protect the majority's right to express their religious beliefs while showing respect for those who object; and

Whereas, we wish to continue the wisdom imparted in the Constitution of the United States of America by the founding fathers; and

Whereas, we as elected officials recognize that a Greater Power exists above and beyond the institutions of mankind:

Now, therefore, be it resolved by the members of the House of Representatives of the Ninety-third General Assembly, Second Regular Session, the Senate concurring therein, that we stand with the majority of our constituents and exercise the common sense that voluntary prayer in public schools and religious displays on public property are not a coalition of church and state, but rather the justified recognition of the positive role that Christianity has played in this great nation of ours, the United States of America.

Five statements of historical fact, followed by the actual resolution.

The sense of many people that there is widespread anti-Christian sentiment in the US is hard for me to take seriously. Christianity is and always has been the majority religion since the European invasion of America. Likely it will be for at least a few hundred more years.

The first part of the resolution also states a fact: that most Missouri citizens are Christian by self-consideration, and most of them agree with a "common sense" that the legislators outline further.

Voluntary prayer has always been a constitutional guarantee in schools. It is true that school officials have misunderstood this from time to time, erring on one side or the other. Telling student-led groups or individuals that they cannot pray is wrong. The understanding in such a group is that there is a wish for 100% compliance within the group. As such, any single non-Christian in the room is enough to scuttle a public prayer.

For example: a sports team wants to pray before a game. If the students all agree with active assent, and the adults present keep silent, then the prayer is appropriate. If one adult speaks up, or if one student does not actively assent, then free speech has been forfeited.

Second example: if a group of students wishes to meet for a Bible study, provide its own resources, and conduct the group within the policies and rules of any student group, the group should be morally free to continue.

For adults in a school, be they staff or parents or visitors, to take anything more than a passive role in such voluntary prayer is morally problematic.

Religious displays on public property ... ah. Here, you have a wider swath of citizens. It would seem to me that dialogue (as defined in Gaudium et Spes) might be employed fruitfully. Does one active dissenter sink a whole display? I can think of the theoretical of a public display of Wicca--would it take just one zealous non-Wiccan to cease? Is there a lack of private property in a locality to prevent a religious display from being erected? Is the objection to Christmas objections about maintaining tradition--the way we've always done it? Or is it also about a sense of entitlement?

The Missouri legislators are attempting to "resolve" what might be better settled by local brains at the community level. But one of the prices of having a legal-oriented society is that decisions tend to be made at the highest possible level, rather than the lowest. That such a resolution needs to be considered shows that American society has progressed to a post-civility state. That opponents of such a resolution have seen fit to misrepresent it is possibly supportive of the sentiment that led to its drafting in the first place.

Two generations ago, such a resolution would have been irrelevant. And today? Today, it has widened the chasm between neighbors and citizens a little bit more. That strikes me as being a little bit less American, a little bit less Christian.

March 09, 2006

Gaudium et Spes 24

Gaudium et Spes 24 reminds us of the primacy of God's universal fatherhood:

God, Who has fatherly concern for everyone, has willed that all (people) should constitute one family and treat one another in a spirit of (family). For having been created in the image of God, Who "from one man has created the whole human race and made them live all over the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26), all (people) are called to one and the same goal, namely God Himself.

A Christian believer is obligated to extend her or his family values to the entire world. The presumption, a difficult one, is that lacking any reason to expel a person from the"family," a degree of honor, respect, and love, is to be assumed as a basic Christian expression. Love is a particularly needful value, and a particularly important choice to make, given the growing interdependence of the world's peoples. It's nowhere near less true in the cyber-age:

For this reason, love for God and neighbor is the first and greatest commandment. Sacred Scripture, however, teaches us that the love of God cannot be separated from love of neighbor: "If there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.... Love therefore is the fulfillment of the Law" (Rom. 13:9-10; cf. 1 John 4:20). To (people) growing daily more dependent on one another, and to a world becoming more unified every day, this truth proves to be of paramount importance.

John 17 is a useful reflection. Jesus does not limit his prayer for unity to believers alone. He reiterates his desire--and the Father's will--that all (not some!) will be one.

Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, "that all may be one. . . as we are one" (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God's sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that (humankind), who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find (itself) except through a sincere gift of (itself).(cf. Luke 17:33)

More than expressing a shallow or tepid unity, the human calling is to aspire to be like the divine relationship of the Trinity.

How are we doing?

Gaudium et Spes 23

CHAPTER II of Gaudium et Spes is entitled "The Community Of (Humankind)." The first paragraph here sets out an important definition, that of "dialogue."

One of the salient features of the modern world is the growing interdependence of (people) one on the other, a development promoted chiefly by modern technical advances. Nevertheless ... dialogue among (people) does not reach its perfection on the level of technical progress, but on the deeper level of interpersonal relationships. These demand a mutual respect for the full spiritual dignity of the person. Christian revelation contributes greatly to the promotion of this communion between persons, and at the same time leads us to a deeper understanding of the laws of social life which the Creator has written into (human) moral and spiritual nature.

Play it again, Sam:

(D)ialogue among (people) does not reach its perfection on the level of technical progress, but on the deeper level of interpersonal relationships.

Dialogue is not, as many conservative commentators suggest, a sort of caving in to another's viewpoint. Nor is it a matter of casual or surface cocktail conversation. The bishops said it: good dialogue does not depend on the accurate representation of facts or truths, but on a deeper (presumably deeper than what has previously passed muster as sufficient) level.

I think Pope Benedict might grasp this better than his predecessor. At least if the fabled dinner with Hans Kueng and recent discussions with the SSPX are any indication. What the SSPX'ers, and much of St Blog's, fails to grasp is the importance of relationship. The internet makes it easy to divorce relationship from one's emotional toolbox. That's why, in part, anger and sarcasm are grafted into the character of the conversation.

The council bishops may well have had three years' experience in deepening their ties with their fellow bishops. If it worked for the council, why couldn't we dream it would work in the world?

Since rather recent documents of the Church's teaching authority have dealt at considerable length with Christian doctrine about human society,(cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter, Mater et Magistra, May 15, 1961: AAS 53 (1961), pp. 401-464, and encyclical letter Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963: AAS 55 (1963), pp. 257-304; Paul VI encyclical letter Ecclesiam Suam, Aug. 6, 1964: AAS 54 (1864) pp. 609-659.) this council is merely going to call to mind some of the more basic truths, treating their foundations under the light of revelation. Then it will dwell more at length on certain of their implications having special significance for our day.

So then, Gaudium et Spes is not meant to be in itself exhaustive, but building on tradition.