Archive for the Social Justice Category

God or the god of Riches?

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

money_and_godI once heard about a community of women religious that have a practice of doing something every year that seems incredibly foolish.

At the end of each fiscal year, after they pay whatever bills still remain, they give away every dollar that they have left in their accounts and give it to the poor.

I remember when I first heard about this practice and, despite being a Franciscan friar who knows well that this sort of practice is what St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi had in mind with their communities, responded: “Why would they do that?”

My feeling was, like so many who might come across this and similar stories, that this practice is so foolish — what if the next day there was a flood or a fire or there was a medical need in the community or whatever? And the sisters’ response to this sort of question seemed so illogical: God will provide through the interdependence of the whole community.

Foolish and illogical alright, but foolish and illogical according to whom?

For the last three weeks we have been hearing St. Paul talk to us, by way of his Letter to the Corinthians, about wisdom and foolishness. There are two spheres, the worldly, human wisdom and the wisdom of God. Each appears as foolishness to the other, but we are challenged to consider according to which we decide to live.

This is why, in so many ways, my initial reaction to hearing about this religious community’s practice was perfectly normal. There is a sort of wisdom, a “common sense” guide by which we have been formed and according to which we — especially those who are affluent in the United States — live our lives. We are encouraged by friends, family, and society to plan for the future, to be on guard about finances, to make sure all is accounted for…just in case.

Yet, in today’s Gospel we have Jesus telling us something very different. There is a sense in which Jesus appear to be speaking against prudence, common sense, planning.

Maybe, but maybe not.

Jesus is definitely uncovering a tension that human beings face in today’s Gospel (Matthew 6:24-34). It’s a temptation that even he faced while in the desert. It is the struggle to face what we will serve, what will be our true divinity: will it be God or will it be ourselves. 

Jesus puts it famously in terms of serving two masters, serving God or “mammon,” which might best be rendered “riches” here because it means more than just money as it is sometimes suggested. Ultimately, I believe, the issue is between God and us, between serving the will of God or serving our own will. It is between putting our desires and interests first and putting first the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’s point, and St. Paul’s after him, is to get us thinking about what should govern or direct our lives and what actually governs or directs our lives. 

This is not to suggest that we should be reckless or irresponsible. Remember, the women’s religious community did pay all their bills before aiding those who needed the remaining money more than they did. It is a question about what ultimately guides us in how we go about this world.

St. Augustine puts this rather starkly in his writings when he makes the distinction between that which is for our use (uti) and that which is to be enjoyed or loved in itself (frui). In the end, it is only God who should be loved for God’s self, everything else should be loved or utilized proportionally and with an eye toward the ultimate goal of each person and all of creation.

But so many of us get those things reversed. We confuse what we want to love with what should be loved. For some it is money, but the riches come in various shades: property, power, prestige, wealth, attention, control, and so on. These things all pass away, they are not ends in themselves and when they become an end, they morph into our god, which precludes us — as Jesus says — from serving the true God.

At the center of this is our desire to break away from who we really are, which goes all the way back to the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis. It’s not about apples and snakes, it’s about us wanting to be our own gods. It’s about loving ourselves first and God and others second. It’s about being completely independent and without having to rely on anybody else (which is, of course, “the American way,” right?).

What that community of sisters realized is that which St. Francis, St. Paul, St. Clare, and so many others we admire for their Christian lives also realized: to be Christian, to be fully human, is to recognize and accept our inherent interdependence and to live into that rather than avoiding it. This interdependence is another way of talking about the striving first for the Kingdom of God that Jesus speaks about in the Gospel. It is the caring for one another, it is to realize that we depend on others and that others depend on us.

With this Sunday goes the end of the Liturgical Season of Ordinary Time for a while. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and Lent officially begins. This seems to me to be a good time for us to pause and reflect over the next forty days on the questions: What motivates us? What is our starting point? Do we seek to build up our sense of independence rather than embrace our interdependence? Do we let the wisdom of the world guide our behaviors or do we let the wisdom of God show the way? Do we put our trust in God or do we only trust ourselves?

Photo: Stock

Parish Mission in Indiana

Posted in Social Justice, The Last Words of Jesus, Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 15, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This past week I had the wonderful blessing to give a series of talks at St. Louis de Montfort Parish in Fishers, Indiana just north of Indianapolis, for the 2014 Parish Mission. My time with the St. Louis community began over the weekend as I preached at all the Masses and presided at a few of them. The staff and community was incredibly welcoming and it was a gift to be with them.

The theme of the mission was “The Last Words of Jesus,” and although the subject matter seems like it should belong to Lent or Good Friday alone, those who were able to come to the talks quickly learned that what Jesus says from the Cross should inform and shape our whole Christian experience.

During my time at St. Louis, I was fortunate to experience a variety of events and participate in the life of the parish. On Sunday, after the last Mass (the 5:00pm, which was Mass number 5 of the weekend), I was privileged to join the parish staff for a dinner over which we got to know each other better and share a nice conversation. I celebrated the morning Mass with those who gathered daily and shared the talk of the day with those who could stay after the liturgy. On Wednesday morning I presided over and preached at the school Mass, which included students from Pre-K through 8th grade, along with some parents, teachers, and other parishioners. On the last evening, after the final talk, we had a lovely reception where I was able to chat with a number of folks at length, including my mother’s cousin who happens to be a parishioner there (small world!). Each evening the parish also had a book signing, another wonderful chance to connect with so many great people.

Despite the freezing temperatures, unusually cold I was told, the warmth of my welcome made the outside weather seem negligible! I have to thank Sandy Stanton especially, she and the other staff at St. Louis de Montfort arranged things so well that even with the occasional surprise or change of plans, the whole experience felt flawless.

The whole community at St. Louis remains in my thoughts and prayers!

Photos: Louise Firsich

Francis, Franciscans, and The New Yorker

Posted in America Magazine, Franciscan Spirituality, Pope Francis, Social Justice with tags , , , , on January 21, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

friars-in-habits-giving-out-bread-in-front-of-sfa-nyc1There was a certain amount of understandable pride that I experienced when I saw a well-known ministry of my Franciscan province featured in the eminent pages of the most-recent issue of The New Yorker (January 20, 2014). The brief profile of the ministry and its director appeared in the front “Talk of the Town” section, titled: “Dept. of Kindness: Breadline.” But what struck me more than the gratitude that a renowned publication, and one not always intuitively hospitable to religious subjects, might report on the good work the Franciscan friars have done and are doing in midtown Manhattan was an almost passing reference to the “Francis Effect” that appears buried within the descriptive narrative Ian Frazier offers of the morning breadline routine.

After noting such details as the longstanding presence of the St. Francis of Assisi Church’s breadline ministry – “The breadline has existed since September, 1930, and is the oldest continuously operated breadline in the United States” – and the colorful presentation of the breadline’s current director, Fr. Paul Lostritto, OFM (literally colorful: “Some friars prefer leather sandals, but Father Paul’s were orange Crocs”), Frazier points to a recent addition to the cadre of breadline volunteers:

“As the line continued past the coffee urns, it was met by Sikhs who were giving out bags of fresh fruit.  The Sikhs, from Long Island, had read about Pope Francis in the news, admired him, and looked up information about the saint whose name he had taken. ‘We like very much what we learn about St. Francis,’ Baldev Srichawla, one of the Sikhs, told a bystander. ‘He was not a lavish person. He lived humbly and cared for the poor, and we Sikhs believe in helping the needy. When we found out about this church named after him, we wished to participate in this food line, too.’”

This little paragraph is what has stayed with me the most about this short New Yorker report. Those who still doubt the so-called “Francis Effect” might have a difficult time explaining away the first-person narrative of a small community of Long Island Sikhs that have been so inspired by Pope Francis and his medieval namesake.

One thing that Frazier doesn’t mention, and understandably so given the limited focus and scope of a “Talk of the Town” piece, is that St. Francis of Assisi was also instrumental in reshaping Christian interreligious dialogue in his time, such that it has continued to impact the way women and men of all faith traditions (or of none at all) have come together, collaborated on projects of good will, and sought to genuinely understand one another.

Francis of Assisi, after returning from the now-famous peaceful encounter with Sultan Malek al-Kamil in Damietta, Egypt, around 1219 during the Fifth Crusade, instructed his brother friars when going among Muslims or other non-Christians to live “spiritually among them” and “not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake” (Regula non bullata, Ch. XVI). It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II called a multitude of religious leaders from all around the world to Assisi in October 1986 for an interreligious prayer service for peace.

Pope Francis continues to live up to his name, inspiring the peaceful coming together of people of all traditions. Not only are the poor, the marginalized, the overlooked, the disenfranchised, and the forgotten now on the social radar and consciences of more people – Christians and non-Christians alike – but in the spirit of the Saint from Assisi, this Bishop of Rome seems to be truly inspiring interreligious community and cooperation.

Daniel P. Horan, OFM is a Franciscan friar of Holy Name Province, a columnist at America magazine, and the author of several books including the new The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013).

This post also appeared on America magazine’s website.

Photo: HNP

Slavery and Dangerous Memory

Posted in America Magazine, Social Justice with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

TWELVE YEARS A SLAVEThis column appears in the December 2, 2013 issue of America magazine.

Sitting in a Cambridge, Mass., movie theater with a friend, I forced myself not to look or shy away from the violent scenes in Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave.” Unlike the gratuitous violence of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” or Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” there was nothing over-the-top, nothing selfish about what was painfully depicted on screen in McQueen’s adaptation of the story of Solomon Northup. That is what made it so difficult to watch and why I wanted to look away so badly. The presentation seemed so real.

As the Yale historian David Blight, an expert on American slavery, said in an NPR interview, “We love being the country that freed the slaves, [but] we’re not so fond of being the country that had the biggest slave system on the planet.” Whereas Gibson’s depiction of the Passion was an idiosyncratic reflection of his own personal piety and Tarantino’s slave film was fictive, “12 Years a Slave” offers an indicting narrative that forces its viewers—particularly its white American viewers—to confront a dangerous memory that we would collectively like to forget.

Blight said that the history of American slavery is “a problem in our culture because, to be quite blunt about it, most Americans want their history to be essentially progressive and triumphal, they want it to be a pleasing story. And if you go back to this story, it’s not always going to please you, but it’s a story you have to work through to find your way to something more redemptive.”

The way Blight talked about the importance of McQueen’s film reminded me of the work of the German theology professor Johann Baptist Metz. In his book Faith in History and Society, Father Metz describes two types of memories. The first is the sterilized form of memory, “in which we just do not take the past seriously enough” and recall everything in a soft, glowing light. This type of memory is usually evolutionary or progressive, reflecting a trajectory of history moving toward an increasingly better world. The other type is what Metz calls “dangerous memories, memories that make demands on us.” The latter are what he sees constituting the Christian narrative when we take seriously the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Metz explains that these dangerous memories “illuminate for a few moments and with a harsh steady light the questionable nature of things we have apparently come to terms with, and show up the banality of our supposed ‘realism.’”

Far too often the history of slavery in the United States is reduced to the sterile, clichéd and comforting former type of memory. The stark reality of slavery and our collective complicity in its perpetuation are reduced to a caricature. Alternatively, we tell a story about the triumphant work of the “liberator-martyr” Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, which overshadows the complexity of a past marred by the indescribable suffering of generations of persons who have been dehumanized, sold, owned, raped, murdered and destroyed. Many who have the luxury to look away and forget do so. This selective memory silences the oppressed, the victims and the dead. This is a kind of memory that allows the sins of American racism and white privilege to continue today, an unquestioned status quo shielded by our willful ignorance and desire for historical “progress.”

But slavery in this nation is a memory of the latter kind, a dangerous memory. Like the resurrection of Christ, which can never be separated from his life and death, there is something redeeming about calling to mind the suffering caused by American slavery and its continuing effects.

What is redemptive is not the belief that “all is O.K. now.” Rather, the way toward redemption is directed by an awareness that things are far from O.K. What makes the memory of American slavery so dangerous is that in calling to mind the suffering of history’s victims, we begin to see that the suffering continues. Hope is found in the interruption that films like “12 Years a Slave” make in our everyday lives and presumptions. This interruption should shock us into hearing the muted cries of history’s victims (Psalm 34) and recalling that, although we are many parts, we are one body in Christ (1 Cor 12:12).

The body of Christ continues to suffer. The dangerous memory of slavery calls us to take seriously the question: What are you and I going to do about it?

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013).

When Prayer Becomes About Us

Posted in Homilies, Pope Francis, Prayer, Scripture, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

pharisee-tax-collector_472_314_80The scripture scholar Luke Timothy Johnson has a very telling comment about today’s Gospel passage, which centers on the parable of the self-righteous pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Johnson says: “For Luke, prayer is faith in action. Prayer is not an optional exercise in piety, carried out to demonstrate one’s relationship with God. It is that relationship with God.”

This is a very striking parable, one that gets me every time. It challenges the hearers to examine themselves in such a way as to confront with honesty the truth that (a) we are indeed all sinners and (b) that it is far too common a human trait to be like the pharisee, to “pray” to God by looking out of the corner of our eyes and seeing those against whom we compare ourselves with despising or scorning (exoutheneo) glances and judgments.

How often do we find ourselves in the place of “those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised/scorned everyone else?” My sense is that, if you’re like me, more often than we’d like to admit.

In addition to the offensive self-righteousness of the pharisee, we have other themes that arise in subtle yet significant ways here.

First, we must ask about the pharisee — and, by proxy, ask about ourselves — according to what are others being judged as sinful, or “greedy, dishonest, adulterous” as the pharisee in Jesus’s parable puts it? The pharisee (and many of us) appears to contradict himself in his prayer. On the one hand, he’s presuming God is a judge before whom he must make his case by highlighting the ways he is accordingly righteous. On the other hand, if God is the judge, then what business does the pharisee have casting a verdict on the tax collector? See, Jesus does not deny that God is the judge, but as the Gospel from last week, which immediately precedes today’s in Luke’s account of the Good News, presents to us — God’s behavior as judge is far more generous and responsive than even the most surprising turn of generosity on the part of the so-called wicked judge who eventually hears the voiceless, recourse-less widow and grants her justice.

The pharisee wants God to be the sort of judge that fits his distorted worldview that is entirely self-serving, he wants God to render condemnatory judgment on those the pharisee has already judged as sinful, wrong, despised, and so forth. But Jesus warns his hearers, using a passive construction in the Greek that signals it is indeed God’s action and not the individual agents, that those who put themselves up like the pharisee are in for a terrifying surprise.

Second, there is some truth about what the pharisee presumes about the tax collector, at least that’s how Jesus conveys it to us through the very words of contrition and shame found on the lips of the self-acknowledged sinner. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner” he says. And he’s right.

The odd thing here is that no one disputes — the pharisee, the tax-collector, Jesus — that the tax collector is a sinner. The only contentious question in this parable is whether or not anyone can stand before God and proclaim his or her righteousness. What makes what the pharisee says wrong is that he too is a sinner, he too is in need of mercy. But his prayer becomes one of misplaced self-confidence, of certitude of goodness or righteousness on account of his relative social standing to the tax-collector. But what might God have to say about this?

The Wisdom of Ben-Sira in the First Reading (Sirach 35: 12-14, 16-18) helps flesh this out for us.

The LORD is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.

We are reminded that God is not interested in a prosecutorial presentation of how great we are or why we are in need of answered prayers, admittance to heaven, or some other personal notion of salvation. No, God is interested in hearing “the one who serves God willingly,” the one who is humble and honest and truthful about where he or she stands. And the truth is, like Pope Francis himself admitted in his America magazine interview, we are all sinners, we are all the tax-collectors. But we so often act like the pharisee, if not in our direct prayers to God, then at least in our thoughts and actions.

One of the overlooked aspects of today’s readings is the true meaning of prayer and how it can be so easily co-opted for selfish and harmful purposes, used to justify judgment and discrimination that is said to have come from God but really only comes from the minds and mouths of human beings, of other sinners.

The pharisee shows us how not to pray. He makes prayer about himself and not, as Jesus taught his disciples, about God’s will being done.

Conversion, turning around, is what God calls us to do in prayer. To recognize, own, and confess to God “what we have done and what we have failed to do” so that we don’t just stay in the place of our own imperfection and finitude, but move toward action and justice. Those who admit their sinfulness, who with Pope Francis identify themselves as sinners, are able to meet the other, to extend a hand of understanding, and to offer an embrace of solidarity. Unlike the pharisee who has no need to be around “such people,” we are meant to be God’s hands and feet and heart in our world to, as the Psalm says, “hear the cry of the poor” and respond to those in need.

When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them (Psalm 34).

How does God rescue the just from their distress? Through us.

But if we’re too busy making our prayer only an argument to God about how good we are, how righteous we are, how much better we are than others, we won’t be able to hear the cry of the poor and we won’t be able to be Christians. The time will come, then, when we will be humbled.

Photo: Stock

New Book For a Great Cause

Posted in Scripture, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 18, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

ClothedMe.Cover_.Full_-e1372305936491Last year a new book was released titled, “Hungry, And You Fed Me,” which was the first of a three-volume project titled “Homilists for the Homeless” intended to cover all three of the liturgical years (the first covered readings from Year C). The project, edited by Deacon Jim Knipper, was to collect a variety of homilies and reflections on the Sunday readings for the entire year from a number of different contributors — women and men, ordained and lay, Catholic and Protestant. The result was an award-winning book that serves a great cause, because all proceeds go to support several not-for-profit organizations in the New Jersey area that directly serve the homeless (a full list and description of these are below).

I’m excited to announce the release of the second volume (Year A) titled, “Naked, And You Clothed Me.” This volume covers the Sunday and Solemnity readings for the liturgical year that begins on the First Sunday of Advent this year and continues through next Fall. It really is an exciting book and project. As you can tell from the diverse and talented list of contributors, the “Homilists for the Homeless” group has grown from last year and includes some really amazing writers, ministers, and preachers. It also includes me. Although I might not be amazing like the rest of these writers, I am nevertheless honored to have been invited to contribute to this book and delighted to help spread the word about it. Please consider ordering a copy by visiting http://clearfaithpublishing.com/homilies/ This book is not available through Amazon or the other more common commercial means — the intention is that the by having fewer “middle men,” each of whom would necessarily take a cut of the profits along the way, we could allow the most money possible to go to the service organizations.

Contributors include:

The organizations that benefit are:

Bethesda Project began in 1979 when Father Domenic Rossi and members of his prayer group from Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, Pennsylvania, reached out to a group of women experiencing homelessness in Center City, Philadelphia. With the image of a caring family as their model, their greatest strength is in building long-term, trusting relationships with the most vulnerable among the homeless. Now after more than 30 years, Bethesda Project remains committed to their initial calling—to find and care for the abandoned poor and to be family with those who have none.

Dress for Success Mercer County promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing professional attire, a network of support, and the career development tools to help them thrive in work and in life. Finding work is only one step in a woman’s journey towards economic independence; remaining employed and building a rewarding career are essential if a woman is to become self-sufficient.

HomeFront began over 22 years ago when a pediatrician took notice of the bleak welfare motels, then dotting the highway leading into Trenton, NJ, where homeless families were crowded into single rooms. They had no food, and just the clothes on their back. And this one person decided to do what she could to fix it and since that day, HomeFront has done that, first by providing hot meals and organizing volunteers to get food and clothes to these families. With the help of well-trained staff and dedicated volunteers, HomeFront has grown to a multi-site organization with a comprehensive slate of programs. Their mission is to end homelessness in Central New Jersey.

Newborns in Need, Inc. is a 501(c)3 charity organized to take care of needy babies. Their volunteers provide care necessities such as blankets, sleepers, diapers, hats, and booties to agencies and hospitals serving premature, ill, or impoverished newborns. Newborns In Need distributes items free of charge to babies in the United States. Founded upon Christian principles of love and acceptance, NIN has provided essential items without charge to those in need since 1992.

Homilies Homeless

Pope Francis: Living Up to the Name?

Posted in America Magazine, Franciscan Spirituality, Pope Francis, Social Justice with tags , , , , , on September 30, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

03800364This post originally appeared today on America magazine’s “In All Things.”

Shortly after Pope Francis was elected the Bishop of Rome, I wrote in these pages about the significance of the name “Francis” as it comes from St. Francis of Assisi (“What’s in a Name?”). In light of the six-month mark of his pontificate and the unprecedented interview given in August and published earlier this month, it seems fitting to revisit some of the themes that are so importantly tied to the name Francis to consider how the pope may or may not be living up to the name. In other words, while there have been many excellent commentaries on the interview and the six-month pontificate, there hasn’t been much explicit discussion about the courageous decision to take the name after the Poverello, the most famous saint in Christian history. So here are a few thoughts from a Franciscan contributor to America.

There were three overlooked yet significant themes about the legacy of St. Francis that I named in the April article: The renunciation of power, reform with love for the church, and peacemaking that included proper love for creation.

As far as the renunciation of power is concerned, Pope Francis discusses his “experience in church government” in the America interview. There is a sense of humility that deserves recognition in Pope Francis’s acknowledgment that he has made many mistakes in the past. “My style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning had many faults.” Furthermore, he believes that he has learned from his mistakes, stating: “Over time I learned many things. The Lord has allowed this growth in knowledge of government through my faults and my sins…I believe that consultation is very important.”

It appears, through concrete actions and manner of living, Pope Francis has embraced a more collaborative, consultative, and humble approach to leadership. Rather than offering leadership “from above,” he reaches out for advice and assistance when pontiffs of the past preferred to appear to make decision unilaterally. Although no one can ever truly “renounce power,” especially given certain circumstances tied to one’s social location (it’s hard to be an average person when you’re nevertheless still the pope), the decision to eschew so many of the trappings– symbolic and concrete alike – of an antiquated and monarchical pontificate seems to suggest a positive effort to follow in the footprints of the Saint after whom he is now named.

It is clear that Pope Francis loves the church. What sort of reformer he will be remains unseen in the full, but there are glimpses that suggest a way of moving forward that bears a reflection of St. Francis’s way of being. Take his advocation of “thinking with the church,” an Ignatian concept from the Spiritual Exercises, in the America interview earlier this month. There is a connection between his preferential consideration of the church as the “People of God” (Lumen Gentium no. 12 and passim) and reform in terms of church discipline and doctrine (for more on this, see Richard Gaillardetz’s commentary in NCR, “Francis Wishes to Release Vatican II’s Bold Vision from Captivity”).

For example, he says: “Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people [of God]. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief, and the people display thisinfallibilitas in credendo, this infallibility in believing, through a supernatural sense of the faith of all the people walking together.” Following his love of the church, which is the People of God or all the baptized, the pope seems to gesture toward the possibility of a deeper, renewed, and unfolding sense of our faith that can be better understood in time and together.

Finally, his consistent reiteration of the need for the church and world to turn its attention to the poor and those at the margins is emblematic of what it means to be a peacemaker in the spirit of St. Francis. The poor man from Assisi let nothing get in the way of his embracing his sisters and brothers. Pope Francis, perhaps more clearly than in any other aspect of Christian discipleship, has modeled this in word and deed.

However, what remains to be seen is how the Bishop of Rome will encourage women and men of faith and all people of good will to renew their understanding of their right relationship with the rest of creation. Will he draw on the Franciscan theological and spiritual vision of kinship with all of the created order, rooted as it is in Scripture and the tradition? Will he help us to see that, like Leonardo Boff’s famous book by a similar title suggests, the cry of the earth is inextricably tied to the cry of the poor? Time will tell.

In the meantime, six-months in office as the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis seems to be living up to the name “Francis” as best as one might expect so far. There is a lot that can still (and should) be done, and I believe much more will be revealed when his next Encyclical Letter, which rumored to be on the theme of poverty, is published.

Photo: Wire

Saint Francis, Pope Francis, and The Gospel

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Pope Francis, Scripture, Social Justice with tags , , , , , , on September 22, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Italy Vatican Pope

I think it’s fair to say that today’s off-script remarks in Cagliari, Sardinia, represents one of the most “Franciscan” actions of his pontificate so far. Reuters reports:

Francis, at the start of a day-long trip to the Sardinian capital, Cagliari, put aside his prepared text at a meeting with unemployed workers, including miners in hard hats who told him of their situation, and improvised for nearly 20 minutes.

“I find suffering here … It weakens you and robs you of hope,” he said. “Excuse me if I use strong words, but where there is no work there is no dignity.”

He discarded his prepared speech after listening to Francesco Mattana, a 45-year-old married father of three who lost his job with an alternative energy company four years ago.

What makes this so Franciscan? Well, it has to do with the overlap of Pope Francis’s understanding about the Gospel notion of the dignity and value of the human person, his critique of current systems of economic degradation, and the Gospel readings for this Sunday.

Saint Francis’s preaching and way of life (i.e., his “deeds”) centered on a response to the emerging money economy of his medieval time. Already in the 13th Century Francis saw what has become so extreme today: the valuation of human persons — their time, their talents, their lives — in terms of wealth and money. He knew that this was not God’s intention, but something insidious that was capturing the imaginations and speaking to the greedy hearts of his contemporaries. If only he knew how bad things would get eight-hundred-years later!

Later in the day, Pope Francis spoke during Mass, echoing the prescient words of the medieval saint after whom the modern pontiff took his name:

“We don’t want this globalised economic system which does us so much harm. Men and women have to be at the centre (of an economic system) as God wants, not money.”

“The world has become an idolator of this god called money,” he said.

How timely this critique and call to action really is today! In all three of our readings for the 25th Sunday of Ordinary time we hear proclaimed the Wisdom of God in indicting and challenging ways.

The first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Amos — one of the twelve minor prophets in Hebrew Scriptures best known for scathing critique of social injustice — decries those in authority who exercise their power in such a way as the benefit at the expense of the least among the community.

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
“that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?
We will diminish the ephah,
add to the shekel,
and fix our scales for cheating!
We will buy the lowly for silver,
and the poor for a pair of sandals;
even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:
Never will I forget a thing they have done!
(Amos 8: 4-7)

The ancient prophet’s words really speak for themselves. They traverse the divide of time, space, and culture to strike at the ears and hearts of women and men in our day — but do we listen? Do we take this seriously?

The Second Reading from the First Letter to Timothy is significant for at least two reasons. First, prayers are requested for the conversion of the “kings and all in authority” so that they might prioritize prayer, tranquility, peace, and justice over their other preoccupations — presumably with power. Second, there is the affirmation that God desires “everyone be saved” and that Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all.” This is striking especially for those who want to form an “elite” church and vision of salvation. That is not God’s plan, that is a human misrepresentation and distortion that reflects selfishness and exclusivity unknown in the Gospel.

Finally, today’s Gospel summarizes the major theme of the Christian life this weekend with the line: “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” Or, for those who aren’t familiar with that term, put more simply: You cannot serve both God and money!

How do we orient our lives? Do we prioritize our own wealth and live according to the norms of a capitalistic culture that values human beings according to dollar signs and the accumulation of material goods? Or do we, hearing the cry of the poor (Psalm 34) through the proclamation of the Gospel in the exhortation of Pope Francis and in the example of Saint Francis, live following in the footprints of Christ Jesus in working for a just world?

Photo: Wire

Liberation Theology, Pope Francis, and Good News for the Church

Posted in Pope Francis, Social Justice, Vatican II with tags , , , , , on September 10, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

479_Muller-3-01This is something you don’t see everyday: Good news coming from the sitting Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). According to a Religion News Service report this is exactly what we’re getting these days!

Francis, who has called for “a poor church for the poor,” will meet in the next few days with the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and scholar who is considered the founder of liberation theology.

The meeting was announced on Sunday (Sept. 8) by Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, during the launch of a book he co-authored with Gutierrez.

The current Prefect of the CDF, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, a prelate and theologian appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI, who himself had once occupied that position during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, actually wrote a book with Professor Gutiérrez back in 2004. It was during the book launch for the Italian translation that this news was released.

This is certainly a signal of a good shift in the theological and ecclesiastical worlds. For years the popular (mis)conception of “Liberation Theology,” which might more accurately be called “Liberation Theologies” for the multiplicity of perspectives and approaches that have arisen since Gutiérrez’s 1971 book A Theology of Liberation, has been largely negative due to the perception that Pope John Paul II and the CDF had “condemned” the field of study and reflection. Readers of the two CDF documents on liberation theology from the 1980s will appreciate the slight nuance that has often been overlooked, but still recognize the incredulity the anti-communist pontiff of the era maintained about the movement no less.

It is reasonable to suggest that the incredulity was, in part, the result of Pope John Paul II’s own personal history and experience of communism in Poland. Those who might have had a similar experience see the creative use of social theory and criticism alongside grounded scriptural analysis and theological reflection to be a process of promise, not necessarily a harbinger of “communist values” mixed with Christianity.

Now, with the election of Francis, the first pope from Latin America, liberation theology can no longer “remain in the shadows to which it has been relegated for some years, at least in Europe,” according to the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

Though never a supporter of liberation theology himself, the Argentine pontiff has condemned the exploitation of the poor and called on Catholics to reach out to them.

As I wrote months ago in America magazine, shortly after Pope Francis’s election, in the piece, “Living La Vida Jusicia: Pope Francis and ‘Liberation Theology,‘” just because the then Cardinal in Argentina spoke out against certain iterations of “liberation theology” in accord with the CDF documents of the era, does not mean that he was against the theological and praxiological movement in practice. In other words, we should not “do as he says and not as he does,” but look to “what he does and not what he says” in terms of uncovering the deeply rooted appreciation for “liberation theology” expressed in deed.

In addition to the news about Pope Francis’s forthcoming meeting with Gustavo Gutiérrez, who is now a Dominican friar teaching at the University of Notre Dame, Archbishop Mueller also mentioned that the CDF had given the official “green light” to proceed with the canonization process for slain Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.

Some very good news indeed!

Photo: File

The Wisdom of God and Syria

Posted in Homilies, Prayer, Scripture, Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 8, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

VATICAN-SIRYA-POPE-PRAYERThis Sunday is a difficult time to reflect on the readings we have from Scripture. Like most Sundays, like most close examinations of the Gospel and the Word of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are challenging exhortations, instructions, and means according to which we must evaluate our lives and commitments. However, the international reality and tension of the humanitarian crisis in Syria with its accompanying specter of war rests heavily on our global shoulders. I have not written here about Syria so far without a few exceptions for encouraging prayer. There are reasons for this, not the least of which being not knowing where to begin in my comments. I have spoken informally to many friends and theological colleagues, read numerous articles and op-eds, and reflected on the commitments of Christian life as presented to us in the Gospel and the tradition of a living community that spans millennia. Today’s readings might help make some sense of what to do and how to think.

If we begin with the selection from the Book of Wisdom (9:13-18b), we see how it is amazingly poignant today. This is the end of a pericope known as “Solomon’s prayer for wisdom.” The leader of the People of Israel appeals to God for the guidance, wisdom, and inspiration that he recognizes human “wisdom” does not offer. As Michael Kolarcik, SJ, writes in a commentary on this passage:

Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. Solomon’s recognition of his need for wisdom is a paradigm for humanity, particularly for our own time, when our technical knowledge has grown exponentially. There is a fundamental distinction in Solomon’s prayer between knowledge and wisdom. Solomon is acutely aware of both the limits and the strengths of his knowledge. Knowledge represents the human familiarity with the world that enable people to move or act within it. It bestows the power to act. But how will Solomon act?

This, too, is our question: How will we act?

Perhaps more importantly, this is the question that haunts the civil leaders of our world at a time when some call for a response to violence with more violence. The desire to intervene in the attacks of the Syrian government on its own people is, I have no doubt, rooted in a good intention. However, war — even “tailored, strategic strikes” — doesn’t provide a solution to the most fundamental concern at the moment. As Drew Christiansen, SJ, said on PBS this week, “the missile strike doesn’t do the most essential thing, which is saving the people of Syria. And we could do more if we spent the money we’re spending on bombs on caring for the refugees.”

I believe that our commandment to love our neighbors, to care for our sisters and brothers demands of us some intervention in what is happening to those who suffer such injustice and atrocity around the world. But must we always see solution through the lens of military action?

While I am not a politician or an expert on international policy and therefore unable to offer the sort of constructive suggestions that so many are clamoring for when the question of military intervention is taken off the table, I nevertheless believe that the “easy answer” of strikes will not solve the problem. Reports from the region have also suggested that this is not the course of action the people who are being attacked in Syria want either. Something must be done, but not from the drone-control centers located safely around the United States nor from the weapon stores aboard the Naval Fleet poised for attack in the Mediterranean.

The Wisdom of God for which Solomon prays is the wisdom we need to pray for today.

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of this summer’s Ordinary-Time series of difficult passages, which offer a sober reminder to all the baptized that we are de facto in for a difficult time when it comes to following in the footprints of Jesus Christ. In other words, Jesus doesn’t advocate arbitrary hatred of one’s family and friends in the sort of way that a cult-leader might siphon off the familial ties of potential adherents. No, Jesus is really just stating the obvious about the care and consideration that must be taken in responding to God’s call to follow Christ.

Like someone who is planning a construction project, like a civil leader planning a military intervention, Christians must consider what it means to follow through with what they’ve committed to and how they’re to live in this world. Like Solomon, our challenge is to recognize that living in this world according to the Gospel means eschewing the wisdom of the world for the wisdom of God. And, in doing that, we might upset those around us — even, at times, those close to us.

I don’t have all the answers, nor does Pope Francis or anybody else. But we do have the Gospel. We have the call to live in the tension that beckons us to seek peace in the world, but a peace nevertheless that “the world cannot give.” The peace of Christ, which comes not from bombs or poisonous gas, but from the love of peacemaking, reconciliation, and support. We must oppose any more violence, while at the same time working — seriously working — to end the violence and injustice in Syria (and elsewhere!) according to peaceful means.

Photo: wire
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