‘Understanding Laudato Si’ EP 04

Posted in Laudato Si, YouTube Channel with tags , , , , on October 6, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

hqdefaultIn this fourth episode of “Understanding Laudato Si,” we explore the second half of Chapter One. The three subheadings of Chapter One examined here include the themes of: (A) Decline in the Quality of Human Life; (B) Global Inequality; and (C) Weak Responses. Stay tuned for next week’s episode in which we will discuss the first part of Chapter Two!

For more information about the global scientific consensus about climate change, visit http://climate.nasa.gov for a good overview and links to detailed studies.

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Catholic Women Speak: A New Book for the Synod

Posted in Book Review with tags , , , , on October 1, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

catholic women speakToday in Rome a group of Catholic women, representing the Catholic Women Speak Network, a social-media-driven forum for conversation, dialogue, and theological reflection, will officially launch a new book titled, Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table (Paulist Press).

The event is scheduled to take place at the Pontifical University Antonianum, which is the international Franciscan university and a fitting place indeed to host this book launch. In addition to the symbolic witness of the Franciscan tradition’s inclusive spirituality and priority in attending to those at the margins — including, in this case, nearly half of the earth’s population, which has for millennia been pushed to the margins of societies and institutions — the Antonianum holds the distinction of being the first Pontifical University in Rome to be headed by a woman, Sr. Mary Melone.

This is an impressive volume that includes a diverse collection of Catholic women voices from well-known theologians and ethicists to young pastoral ministers. The contributors come from all parts of the world, offering a panoply of cultures and social contexts. Though each of the forty short essays bears the individual style and perspective of its respective author, the editors explain that all contributions are brought together under a common theme: calling for greater inclusion of women, particularly in light of the discussions surrounding the Synod on the family set to begin on Sunday. “This anthology is a collaboration among many women who believe that the Church cannot come to a wise and informed understanding of family life without listening to women” (xxvii).

Additionally, highlighting the “spirit in which this book has been written,” the editors note their resistance to what Pope Francis (echoing, it seems, John Paul II before him in Mulieris Dignitatem) has suggested in an interview, saying “we have not yet come up with a profound theology of womanhood, in the Church” (xxix). The editors explain:

We resist, therefore, any suggestion that the Church needs a theology of “Woman” or “womanhood.” Rather than a deeper theology of women, we say that the Church needs a deeper theology of the human — a theological anthropology that can be developed only by the full inclusion of women in the process of theological reflection informed by the experiential realities of daily life. In her welcoming address to participants at a conference on “Women in the Church: Prospects for Dialogue,” at the Pontifical Antonianum University in April 2015, the university’s rector, Sister Mary Melone, said, “We are not mere guests — we are the Church, and we wish to be so more intensely.” That is the spirit in which this book has been written (xxix-xxx).

In my opinion, statement is very welcome. I, too, agree that the focus has been often misdirected toward gender essentialism and an anthropology rooted in a narrowly defined sense of complementarity (see my article, “Beyond Essentialism and Complementarity: Toward a Theological Anthropology Rooted in Haecceitas,” in Theological Studies). Though this essay collection does not “solve” the theological problems that remain, it nevertheless offers succinct, honest, and concrete reflections, which tell “of the burdens that women bear in a tradition that too often continues to make religion a form of female servitude” and “stories of courage and joy, patience and perseverance, often in the face of extreme adversity” (xxx).

Aimed a broad, general readership, this volume seeks to aid the conversation by providing accessible narratives and reflections to serve as starting points for further inquiry and dialogue. The essays are organized under four headings: (I) Traditions and Transformations; (II) Marriage, Families, and Relationships; (III) Poverty, Exclusion, and Marginalization; and (IV) Institutions and Structures.

The sheer number of contributions prohibits my commenting on each essay, but I wish to make a few representative comments.

The timing of the book’s publication and formal launch was deliberately timed to coincide with the opening of the 2015 General Synod on the Family. It should be no surprise then that more than half of the essays collected in this volume — 22 to be specific — appear in Part II on “Marriage, Families, and Relationships.” This is perhaps the most timely section of the volume, though that should not be interpreted as a dismissal of the other three parts, each of which contain formidable and important contributions.

As noted earlier, in this section there are both familiar names (Lisa Sowle Cahill, Tina Beattie, Jean Porter, Margaret Farley) as well as newer contributors. They cover a range of topics that will strike some readers as controversial although, as these authors note, these are topics that must be addressed with greater inclusivity, directness, and import.

In her essay, “Catholics, Families, and the Synod of Bishops: Views from the Pews,” Julie Clague addresses directly the undeniable gap between theory and practice “between the vision of marriage and family promoted by the Church in its official teaching and the various attitudes, values, lifestyles, and practices that can be witnessed in the diverse social and cultural contexts in which the Church has its being” (52). As Clague puts it bluntly, indeed, “on certain questions, the Church’s magisterium and large numbers of the faithful appear to inhabit different Catholic worlds” (55). Pointing to the data that verifies these divides, Clague calls church leadership to take seriously the sensus fidei of the faithful, something Pope Francis appears to affirm in his instruction about open dialogue and solicitation of views with a survey to the faithful.

Essays in this section also address the often-painful realities experienced by “those in the pews.” In particular, the feeling of being unwelcome in one’s own church. Here the themes of divorce, remarriage, contraceptive use, and same-sex marriage and partnerships appear.

One particularly interesting point of reflection on the church’s teaching on contraception is found in the essay by Jean Porter, a moral theologian at the University of Notre Dame. She notes that in terms of definitively expressed teaching of the past, which has been subsequently deemed errant (to put it colloquially), there has never been a “magisterial reversal” or promulgation that a given teaching or position has “no been canceled” (Porter uses the example of past teaching on “the marital debt”). Rather, Porter says, the church “simply stopped mentioning it.” Drawing from this observation, she continues:

It is easy to imagine something similar happening in the case of the current teaching on contraceptive use. It is difficult to imagine that any future pope or council of bishops would explicitly repudiate this teaching, but it is easy to imagine, in fact it seems probable, that at some point in the near future the magisterium will just stop talking about it. This possibility does raise real theological problems, but these problems do not arise solely in the context of moral teaching (90).

Porter’s reflection opens yet another way to consider the role of the Spirit in the life of the church, suggesting perhaps that we might understand the sensus fidei of the faithful acting to influence formal teaching not by way of direct retraction or contradiction, but more tacitly by way of privation.

As with these two examples, the personal narratives and theological considerations contained within the Catholic Women Speak volume are wonderfully thought provoking, powerful, insightful, and at times very painful.

Reading through this volume as a theologian who is both a male religious and a Roman Catholic cleric, I try to place myself in the shoes (or red-trimmed cassocks) of the bishops who will be gathering for the Synod in coming days. Admittedly, I am already part of the proverbial “choir” to which these essayists could be preaching and so I’m not especially shocked by this volume’s content, but I still can’t help but wonder how the episcopal participants of the Synod would receive this volume.

Could they open themselves up to insights from the stories of healthy, generative, same-sex partnerships? or stories of painful and divisive experiences of divorce? What might a synodal conversation look like that followed an invitation for these women to speak to their brothers in baptism? Prescinding from addressing directly the question of women cardinals or clergy, what if the Synod participants were required to represent, proportionately, the church’s composition of both women and men? How might we hear the Spirit differently and what might God be trying to say to us if we had both halves of the body of Christ present together?

I doubt many of the Synod participants will voluntarily read this volume, and that is a shame. As the Jesuit theologian Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator says in his forward to this book, “This anthology offers the body of Christ an opportunity to encounter the God of surprises with open hearts in unexpected ways” (xiv). The real surprises aren’t found in this book, for the experiences described have been and continue to be reflected in the lived reality of more than half of the church. The real surprises could be the conversations that take place when we open not just our hearts, but our ears and minds as well.

Photo: Paulist Press

Lecture and Discussion about ‘Laudato Si’ in Downtown Boston

Posted in Laudato Si, Social Justice with tags , , , on September 30, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Join us at The Paulist Center in downtown Boston on Thursday October 1 (tomorrow) at 7:00pm for a lecture titled “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor: Introducing Laudato Si with a discussion to follow. Haven’t read the encyclical yet? Not a problem, come learn about it.

Cry of the Earth,Cry of the poor

Cardinal Turkson’s Boston College Lecture on ‘Laudato Si’ [Full Text]

Posted in Laudato Si with tags , , , on September 30, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

cardinal-peter-turksonBelow is the full text of Cardinal Turkson’s address on the encyclical Laudato Si delivered at Boston College earlier this week. The text was provided to Vatican Radio and a video of the lecture is also available online.

Thank you for your warm welcome and for the privilege of speaking on the opening day of this important interdisciplinary conference entitled “Our Common Home: An Ethical Summons to Tackle Climate Change”. Boston College has set itself the task of exploring the implications of Pope Francis’s recent encyclical on the environment and climate change. I am delighted to talk with you about how his encyclical, Laudato si’, can shape the road to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference this December (COP21). It seems especially fitting to talk about the encyclical of the first Jesuit pope at a leading Jesuit university.

Your undertaking is courageous because, given the full embrace of Pope Francis’s vision, you need to reach far and wide but you also need to touch yourselves. This week’s important inquiry will prosper if the reflections and exchanges are grounded in shared civic values, based on competent scholarship and conducted in a transparent manner—all this in a generous Christian spirit of solidarity.

I will begin with a reflection on “common home.” Next I will set the views of Pope Francis on climate change and the environment within our Catholic tradition and explore how the encyclical is being received and how it can ‘make a difference’ in current environmental discussions. In Part 3, I will turn to practical action by Catholics and their institutions, including in this country. Simply put, how can America respond to the Pope’s call to action? I very much look forward to our exchange and pray for God’s blessing on the coming days dedicated to the ethical summons to care for our common home.

PART 1: The GLOBAL COMMONS of “Our Common Home”

You are probably aware of the broad vision of Laudato si’. Here are some of the main points:

  • humanity is not separate from the environment in which we live; rather humanity and the natural environment are one;
  • the accelerating change in climate is undeniable, catastrophic, and worsened by human activities, but it is also amenable to human intervention;
  • the grave errors that underlie our disastrous indifference to the environment include a throwaway culture of consumerism, and a naïve confidence that technological advances and undirected commercial markets will inevitably and automatically solve our environmental problems;
  • the two-fold crisis can be overcome, not by more of the same, but through changes arising from generous dialogue and fundamental ethical and indeed spiritual decision-making at every level.

The very sub-title of the encyclical, “On Care for our Common Home”, conveys an important conviction. Individual homes are not isolated, each on its own planet. They are located within a single, worldwide common home. The encyclical is about the implications of living together in a common home.

Boston is an ideal location in which to explore this notion. A most striking feature of the city is its large park, the Boston Common.[1] During the 1630s, its 50 acres were used by many families as a cow pasture. However, this “common good” lasted for only a few years. Affluent families bought additional cows, and this led to overgrazing. Fortunately, the common resource of this pasture land was rescued by a shared agreement limiting the number of cows to 70.

There are two lessons for our topic.

First, there is the over-grazing. The environmental degradation was not due to necessity but to excess. Overgrazing by the extra livestock of affluent families happened because of materialism, greed, consumerism, perhaps vanity. It was not due to concern for the poor. It did not embody ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ In the chapter called “Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis”, Laudato si’ points to such vices as sources of the depletion of the natural environment. When many act on private self-interest, it endangers the “common” home. The roots of the problem are the bondage of individualism and putting short-term gain above longer-term sustainability.

The second lesson is about decisions. A limit on use of the pasture was set. The Bostonians must have had a way of deciding and of making the decisions stick. Who did the limiting? How was the decision formulated, endorsed, implemented, enforced? Pope Francis calls most forcefully for responsibility, decisiveness and implementation. These are exactly what our common home needs, with the General Assembly deciding upon the Sustainable Development Goals and with the world’s nations converging on COP21 in Paris at the end of November.

Boston Common and over-grazing is a historical example of what has come to be known as the tragedy of the commons.[2] This expression can apply to all situations where the self-interested actions of one or more agents deplete a common resource. For instance, in Laudato si’ the Pope declares the climate and the atmosphere to be common goods “belonging to all and meant for all” (§23). The oceans and other natural resources should likewise be considered as a global commons and protected by an appropriate system of governance (§174). “The principle of the universal destination of the goods of creation is also applied to the global carbon sinks of the atmosphere, oceans and forests. In order to protect the poorest and to avoid dangerous climate change, these sinks must be prevented from overuse.”[3] Let me ask the same questions again: who is going to decide, fairly and squarely, and are the decisions really going to be carried out?


Pope Francis’ concern for climate change as a moral issue and his call for climate change policies are firmly rooted in traditional Catholic teaching. So let us briefly note the development of Catholic ecological ethics. Continue reading

‘Understanding Laudato Si’ Episode 03

Posted in Laudato Si, Pope Francis, YouTube Channel with tags , , , , , on September 29, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

THUMBNAIL_ULS_EP03In this third episode of “Understanding Laudato Si,” we explore the first half of Chapter One of Pope Francis’s encyclical. The three subheadings of Chapter One examined here include the themes of: (A) Pollution and Climate Change; (B) The Issue of Water; and (C) Loss of Biodiversity. Stay tuned for next week’s episode in which I will discuss the second half of Chapter One.

If you haven’t checked out the earlier episodes, be sure to visit the YouTube Channel for them and more.

Please subscribe, like, share, and add your comments or questions below the video. Thanks!

Thomas Merton’s Prayer

Posted in Pope Francis, Thomas Merton, YouTube Channel with tags , , , , , on September 28, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

THUMBNAIL_MertonPrayerA selection from Thomas Merton’s 1958 book Thoughts in Solitude, which has become one of Thomas Merton’s best-known prayers. In honor of Pope Francis’s mention and praise of Merton in his address to the joint session of Congress during his 2015 visit to the United States, it is read here by Daniel P. Horan, OFM with images from Merton’s life. Learn more about Thomas Merton by visiting Merton.org and there join the International Thomas Merton Society (ITMS).

If you like this prayer, be sure to check out the book itself (it’s definitely worth it): Thoughts in Solitude 

[Here’s the link to the video: Thomas Merton’s Prayer]

On Not Being a Stumbling Block to Others

Posted in Homilies, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

7109262Scandal. That’s what the translation should actually say in today’s Gospel (Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48). Why the lectionary renders the Greek Skandalon as “sin” in this translation is unclear, but what is clear is that in the original Greek, Jesus is making it plain to his followers that those who — by their actions or words — become an obstacle or “stumbling block” to others are the real problem that needs correction.

It may seem like a minor concern, this business about translation, but the NAB translation in our lectionary proceeds to use “sin” in the bodily examples Jesus names: hand, foot, eye. But, again, Jesus doesn’t actually seem to be so concerned about the individual act of sin as we might imagine it today, nor is he very likely to have been concerned about one’s actual physical body. The verb used here in the Greek is Skandalizein, which really means “to cause one to stumble.” And scholars, such as John Donahue and the late Daniel Harrington have explained that these bodily references are metaphorical, referring as St. Paul does so often in his letters to the corporate body — in this case: The Body of Christ.

With this in mind, we can look at today’s Gospel in a whole other light. It’s not about individual acts of indiscretion or sinfulness (not that those aren’t important), as much as it’s about how we relate to one another and to strangers as members of the Body of Christ.

In today’s First Reading (Numbers 11:25-29) we have an interesting story about the bestowal of the Spirit upon those selected to continue Moses’s prophetic ministry to the people of Israel. As it happens, two men who were not at the event where the Lord was said to bestow the Spirit upon these ministers nevertheless began prophesying. Those who were counted among the ministers became very upset and insisted that Moses stop them, for these guys were not “allowed” to be speaking on behalf of God and prophesying.

Moses replied: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

The self-righteous seem convinced that they should be arbiters of who is in and who is out of God’s favor. These two prophets might not have been part of the official ceremony of commissioning, but their deeds and words reflected true reception of God’s Spirit. So often religious people are concerned about who is in and who is out of God’s favor, who should be admitted to ministry, who should be welcome at the Table of the Lord — yet, it is clear in Moses’s response that this is not what is important to God. God wants all people to be prophetic followers of the law and God’s will.

A similar scene plays out in today’s Gospel.

Like Moses, Jesus is nonplussed with the idea that people other than his self-identified followers are out and about doing good works and preaching the Good News in his name. The disciples, self-appointed first-century “brand managers” of Jesus, find it annoying and intolerable that those who are not part of their “in crowd” can still be able to perform good works in the name of Christ.

One of the easily overlooked clues that their behavior isn’t really concerned with Jesus as much as it is with their own status as the arbiters of who is in and who is out comes when John reports the news to Jesus: “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”

Catch that? He says this other miracle worker should be prevented from acting not because he doesn’t follow Jesus, but “because he does not follow us,” that is the disciples!

This guy, like the two of the First Reading, is not part of the “in crowd,” does not have the official recognition of those who like to judge the worthy and unworthy, does not play the game according to the disciples’ rules.

And yet, here he is nevertheless performing good works and proclaiming the Good News. Because, in truth, he is certainly “for Christ” (“There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us”).

Jesus uses the same “us” language in response to John to hammer-home the point of communion (Koinonia), the recognition that it is the Spirit of God that unites “us” and not the arbitrary decisions of the self-selected governors of discipleship. As James has been pointing out in the Second Readings these last weeks, discipleship isn’t determined by what one simply says in terms of their faith, but how it is lived; it is seen in the resulting good fruits.

Returning to the key notion of “scandal” in today’s readings, those who complain to Moses and Jesus might have been upset by the potential “scandal” of someone outside of their “in crowd” doing what they felt they had the right to authorize or forbid. But God makes clear through Moses and in Christ that the real scandal is when the disciples and other “good, religious people” exclude those who seek by their deeds and words to do the will of God.

Within the Body of Christ, these are the “members,” the “limbs” that need to be removed — perhaps only for a time — in order that they do not become a stumbling block for the faith of these “little ones” as Jesus puts it.

In our own time, these readings evoke the many people who fall into the category of the “nones” or “disaffected Catholics” or “former Christians,” who may no longer affiliate with a religious institution, but nevertheless seek to do good work and promote the common good in society. Just because a person is not an official member of this or that church does not mean that he or she isn’t doing God’s Will.

This weekend’s readings really call today’s self-proclaimed followers of Christ to examine their consciences. For the “hand,” “foot,” or “eye” that may need to be removed may be them if their attitude, words, and actions cause others to stumble in their faith and prevent the in-breaking of the inclusive Reign of God.

Photo: File

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