Paradise Lost?

Posted in America Magazine with tags , , , , , , on September 26, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

THE GIVERThis is my latest column for America magazine, which appears in the October 6, 2014, issue.

Dystopian films based on dystopian books have been all the rage recently. Hits like “The Hunger Games” and the “Divergent” series have sparked interest in the darker side of futuristic imagination. Perhaps for this reason Lois Lowry’s 1993 book, The Giver, has finally been adapted for the big screen after 20 years.

But The Giver is not actually about a dystopian world. It is, ironically, about a utopian paradise.

The film adaptation may be one of the rare instances in which the visualization of a powerful story enhances the narrative rather than disappointing the audience. It opens with a world of sameness, reason, order, “precision of language” and black and white. All difference, creativity, passion and emotion have been removed from human existence. There is no violence, no dispute, no variation—and it seems to be the perfect society in action. And as far as any citizen knows, this is the way it always has been and ought to be.

This is true for everybody except a community elder known as “The Receiver,” whose responsibility it is to keep safe the memory of what the world was once like, the world of diversity, passion, creativity, emotion, confusion, grays and colors. The Receiver is occasionally consulted for advice by the other elders, who watch constantly over the community, make pronouncements from speakers above, establish laws and decide which persons (especially the newborn and elderly) are “released,” a euphemism for homicide. The Receiver, who is getting up in age, knows how things once were and therefore is aware of how things could be.

The story’s protagonist is a young man named Jonas, who is selected to be the next Receiver. His responsibility is to receive the collective memory from the old Receiver, who by virtue of his instructive role now becomes “The Giver.” Over time the Giver passes this memory to Jonas, and Jonas begins to see color and nuance, to know suffering and happiness, to appreciate that things have been and could be another way.

Lowry’s story is very creative, but the allegory isn’t very original.

It goes back at least to St. Augustine, from whose commentaries on Genesis we get a depiction of paradise, a prelapsarian world in which human beings do not act according to emotion, do not experience passion and do not disobey the Creator. So they live in perfect freedom (libertas), by which Augustine means obedience to God’s will as opposed to being governed by disordered desires, what Augustine calls concupiscence. In paradise human beings acted with complete rationality, which meant the absence of sexual desire and pleasure, as well as much of what we associate with everyday human emotions, including pain and happiness.

Augustine’s vision of human life before the Fall looks a lot like the world in which “The Giver” opens. The focus on rationality and absence of emotions suggests that harmony and concord once ruled, but that a single act of human disobedience—think apples and snakes—set everything on a dangerous trajectory.

This is the trajectory the elders in “The Giver” wished to reverse in creating their own version of rational paradise. However, as Jonas sees both the potential for good and ill that arises from a complex and colorful world in which humanity exercises free will (liberum arbitrium), he realizes that the risk of suffering and the messiness of life are necessary if one wishes to experience love and happiness, even if they are at times fleeting.

“The Giver” puts into stark relief an uncomfortable truth that human freedom comes at a cost, and the cost is the risk of abuse and misuse of that very same freedom. Some people, like Augustine and the elders, believe that the solution to suffering and pain is the elimination of choice and complexity. Perhaps some people, like Augustine and the elders, while well meaning, are wrong. If we all thought, spoke and acted alike, things might be better—maybe even perfect. Things might be simpler, more black and white. Yet they would not be authentically human. The truth is we are all givers and receivers of memory, inheritors of the history of salvation that beckons us to exercise our freedom for the common good. Paradise is not found in restricting freedom and suppressing emotion; it is found in following in the footprints of the most human (and divine) of all, Jesus Christ.

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing (2014).’

Photo: “The Giver” film 2014

Burke, The Media, and the Development of Theology

Posted in Pope Francis, Vatican II with tags , , , , , , on September 25, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

816242-raymond-burkeIt is difficult to discern which public-relations spin is correct when it comes to the public and well-publicized disagreements among the college of cardinals about the nature, scope, hopes, and fears of the upcoming Synod on the Family. Some commentators have suggested that this is an example of infighting and ecclesiastical politics playing out, while others have suggested that this is an important dialogue reminiscent of the early church debates among bishops on matters of doctrine and morality.

While I would like to believe that the latter scenario is true, thereby evoking a time and experience of serious debate in theological reflection  along the lines of Nicaea or even the Council of Trent (in which theologians debated at the request of participating bishops to help shape the doctrinal and disciplinary pronouncements), I fear that a great deal of what is currently unfolding fits the bill of the former scenario — some cardinals just cannot accept the truth that fides quaerens intellectum means that we come to a fuller understanding of the so-called “content of the faith” over time and with serious and faithful research, reflection, and dialogue.

Case in point: Cardinal Raymond Burke’s latest rantings.

I don’t like to use such unfavorable descriptors as “ranting” to describe what my brother Christians and priests are doing, but there is really no other way around it in this particular case. Clearly unhappy with the change in pontificate, something about which he’s has not remained shy, and ostensibly threatened by the possibility that scripturally based mercy and social justice might inform the forthcoming proceedings of the October Synod, Burke has lately suggested that “the media” is responsible for “hijacking” the discussion in preparation for the Synod. Originally reported by the Catholic News Agency and picked up elsewhere, the Cardinal is reported to have said:

I don’t think you have to be brilliant to see that the media has, for months, been trying to hijack this Synod…he media has created a situation in which people expect that there are going to be these major changes which would, in fact, constitute a change in Church teaching, which is impossible. That’s why it’s very important for those who are in charge to be very clear.

So, what’s the problem? “Church teaching,” in the broad sense in which Burke evokes it here, does in fact change and change more regularly than one in his reactionary shoes might imagine.

Unfortunately, the good cardinal and canonist makes for a very inaccurate theologian and historian: changes in “church teaching” are in fact very possible and recognizable.

There are the classic examples of usury, slavery, interfaith marriage, and the like. But there are also more subtle ways in which “church teaching” has changed even within my admittedly short lifetime. Teaching pertaining to morality of all things. Take, for example, the way that magisterial teaching on capital punishment has shifted over the last thirty years, but in the exercise of papal teaching authority as well as on the more regional and local levels with bishops conferences and synodal statements. Also, the Code of Canon Law, that governing document so precious to Burke personally, continues to be a living document that is amended (Benedict XVI made changes, to the status of authority for the order of deacons, for example) and had in 1983 after the mandate of Vatican II significantly revised the Code.

On the more pertinent topic of the Sacrament of Marriage, both Vatican II (see Gaudium et Spes) and subsequent encyclicals (e.g., Humanae Vitae) significantly changed the “Church’s Teaching” on the natural “ends” of marriage, expanding that category from just procreative ends to include the role of mutuality and love between the spouses.

Unfortunately for Cardinal Burke, his personal opinion (which is what is expressed here) is not supported by the tradition, neither historically nor theologically. In truth, even his canonical field has to admit to change and with good reason. Regarding questions of the family, the meaning and practice of marriage in particular, these are things that certainly fall within (to put it simply) the extended category of church teaching and are not, as the Creed is for example, “impossible to change.” So much of what is billed by Burke and his likeminded fellows as essential to the faith is really a reliant, not simply on teaching constituting dogma (e.g., Scripture, the Creed, etc.) but the result of centuries of theological reflection and growing in the understanding of our shared faith. Additionally, so much of what is perceived as “unchangeable,” is reliant on medieval fundamental theology that does not always hold up to the natural and social scientific and philosophical discoveries we’ve made over the last millennium.

It is indeed time for conversation, and people like Burke are certainly welcome to oppose the work of other bishops and theologians, but don’t blame this on the “bogeymen” of “the media” and “culture.” Each should take responsibility for their own views and enter the dialogue with respect.

Photo: File

The Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , on September 17, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

stigmata of francisToday is the Feast of St. Robert Bellarmine (d. 1621), the important Jesuit bishop and theologian. Or is it?

With all respect to my Jesuit brothers and the universal church, for whom today is the memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, the worldwide Franciscan family celebrates the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis each September 17. It has always struck me as an awkward celebration, at least after first glance. It would appear that Franciscans the world over are celebrating five wounds, celebrating the pain and suffering the we know accompanies what is sometimes billed as a great grace or gift from Christ. And it remains awkward and even weird if we remain fixated on the crucifixion wounds that appeared on Francis’s body.

But this feast day actually has little to do with these wounds as such.

Rather, the Feast of the Stigmata, at least theologically, is a much more complex and robust celebration. What we see when we take a closer look beyond the disputed history of hagiography and medical inquiry (numerous studies have been written about the veracity of the Stigmata accounts, most recently Solanus Benfatti’s book, The Five Wounds of Saint Francis [2011]), is not a question of what appeared on the outside of the Poverello, the poor man from Assisi. Instead, we are invited to look more carefully inside, to the interior life of a Christian disciple who wished nothing more than to follow in the footprints of Christ.

In his conclusion, Benfatti writes:

It is essential to comprehend that Francis had never thought to pick and choose aspects of the life of Christ to dress himself up in, but rather had chosen something that I would say is much harder because there is far less control in it: he had chosen, simply, to follow. Francis chose to move forward step-by-step in the footprints of the Lord, which I say is dangerous, because who can know where it will lead? (236, emphasis original).

This is at the heart of the Feast — a recognition that what appeared externally on Francis’s body was reflective of his interior conformity to the lived example of Jesus Christ.

So often we are people who judge from the exterior — how someone dresses, how or what someone speaks, where someone lives, what someone does, and so on. Yet, as the Scriptures continually remind us, God judges what is inside and in our hearts. The Feast of the Stigmata is a celebration of a Christian life lived as fully and authentically as possible. The ‘grace’ that was given to Francis was not some random burden or some freak sideshow illness, it is a visual and corporeal representation of what only God can typically see — a baptized man who lived as fully as he could bearing the resemblance of Christ.

On this feast day, I invite all people — Franciscans and others alike — to look within, see how each of us does or does not bear the marks of Christ in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Perhaps we won’t receive the marks of Christ in the form of five wounds, but we could certainly — and should certainly — make visible the presence of Christ in every other way.

Happy Feast Day!

Photo: File

The Memory of 9/11: An Anniversary Reflection and Christian Response

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

The following is an excerpt from my essay, “A Franciscan Millennial and the Memory of 9/11,” which appears in the book, Franciscan Voices on 9/11 (Franciscan Media, 2011), and is now available for the Amazon Kindle. The book also includes essays from Richard Rohr OFM, Joe Nangle OFM, Mike Guinan OFM, and others.

Approaching the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we are called to remember, commemorate and mourn. Each of these practices is an engagement with memory. The first (remember) is to “call to mind,” to “bring forward” a concept or experience. This “thing-to-call-to-mind” can be positive or negative, but it remains in the past or in the realm of the imagination. The second (commemorate) is a communal engagement, to remember with others usually in a public way. The third (mourn) is to bring to mind in order to let go or reconcile. But what is this memory that we are asked to engage?

In one sense it is a very subjective reality. So much of my memory is cast, edited, recast, forgotten and so on by “me.” Yet, there remain public or shared factors that inform much of a memory I claim as my own. The constant repetition of “the story of 9/11” in the news, in political-campaign speeches, from sermon pulpits and around the patriotic hearth of American households seems to convey a sense of objective truth that “this story” is “the story.” However, this is not the case.

So much of the shaping of this memory has been done by language that is constricted by the discourse of American nationalism and vengeance. It is a memory of attack and violence that has been crafted to justify the retributive action of the United States across the globe. Two wars, thousands of deaths, trillions of dollars and lost civil liberties later, one must only allude to 9/11 to justify violence, discrimination and abuse. As such, the memory of 9/11 becomes not a token of solemn reflection fit for remembrance, commemoration or mourning, but a pawn in the game of global power.

Recently I was eating lunch with some other Franciscan friars and two employees who work for the friars in Albany. Having just returned from an academic conference in another part of the country, I shared my frustration about the loss of civil liberties exemplified in the highly invasive procedures of airport security. One of the employees said she would rather feel violated (as I had that week) and be open to further restrictions in order to “be safe.” When I and some others at the table explained that studies often show such actions are simply theatrical and reactionary and in fact were not making anybody safer, she admitted that either way she would support the surrender of her rights. Her memory has been so shaped by the popular language of the possible and the collective narratives of violence that she could not see the contradiction inherent in sacrificing one’s rights to “protect” these very same rights.

This memory is highly selective. The images and emotions evoked by the way people discuss 9/11 perpetuates the belief that “justice” means vengeance and “peace” is attainable only by a war on terror. This sort of rhetoric draws on religious symbolism, blatantly contradicting the core of Christian belief, which so many of those who willingly capitulate to this narrative claim as their own. If the memory of 9/11 were not limited to the language of the possible, more people might see that what we passed off as “the memory of 9/11” is really just a tiny sliver of the fuller story. Its use has not been to authentically remember, commemorate or mourn a tragedy, but to perpetuate injustice and violence in our world.

The 13th-century Franciscan saint, theologian and doctor of the church, St. Bonaventure, explains that memory is not only shaped by our own experience and the influences of the community, but it can be informed and shaped “from above” by those things that cannot be perceived through our senses. In other words, our memory also can be affected by the divine light of God, illuminated and made clear through the Spirit. What the selective memory of 9/11 has done is preclude the memory of the tragedy from receiving the light of God. Instead, it remains in the shadow of worldly wisdom. St. Paul reminds us how Christians are to approach the wisdom of the world.

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demanded signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:20-25, NRSV).

A Christian response to worldly wisdom, to the factors of popular, civil and political influence on memory, is to question what at first might seem wise and appropriate in order to allow God to illuminate the true wisdom.

St. Paul and St. Bonaventure challenge the conventional notion of the memory of 9/11 by reminding us to examine what has shaped and informed it. Is this how God sees what happened on 9/11? Is this how Jesus Christ would respond after such an event?

To speak with a Franciscan voice, to remember, commemorate and mourn as one who lives the gospel would, we must be willing to step back and challenge the individual and collective memory of that fateful day ten years ago. We must be willing to ask about what factors have come together to produce the story that is passed along as the memory, challenging the conventional wisdom as Jesus himself had. “You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44). Though to many a Franciscan voice will sound foolish, it is nevertheless rooted in the wisdom of God.

To read the full text and other essays on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, read Franciscan Voices on 9/11 (Franciscan Media, 2011).

Photo: Stock

The Prophetic Burden

Posted in Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 31, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

seeking godJeremiah never wanted to be a prophet. That much he makes very clear. From the opening scene in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah onward, this young man does his best — as do the prophets that came before and would come after him — to avoid the responsibility and call that God has placed before him. What we get in this short snippet in today’s first reading (Jer 20:7-9) is just one reminder of the fact that this guy did not ‘sign up’ for the job.

What we encounter at the beginning of the passage is Jeremiah in the middle of a serious lament. He is upset, which might be an understatement, that his preaching has led to personal ridicule, no one will take him seriously, and that those he has been sent to call out — those who abuse power and others, for example — want him gone. He is now fearing for his safety and life, concerned that those who want to silence him will do precisely that. He feels in over his head, lost without direction, upset that his life had to take this turn.

And, in this moment, he blames God.

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.
All the day I am an object of laughter;
everyone mocks me.

Who else should shoulder the blame? It was, after all, God who in the beginning of the Book of Jeremiah, insists that the young would-be prophet doesn’t know better than God and that God has destined him for this mission from before he was born. Jeremiah feels betrayed by his creator.

But what should he expect?

Those who bear the name ‘Christ’ as Christians should be able to relate well to our predecessor Jeremiah. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that to follow him is no easy task. Jesus is not a sadist, nor is he encouraging masochism among his flock. Those who interpret the “denial” and the “taking up of crosses” as signs that Jesus wants nothing more from his followers than abject self-punishment are missing the point.

The denial of oneself here refers to the situation that we, like Jeremiah before us, often face in our lives of faith. When the going gets tough, we’d rather get going back to our own plans with us as number one. We are hesitant or, more likely, completely unwilling to surrender the possibility that the world revolves around us and that I should first take care to be sure I’m secure or comfortable or whatever before bothering to do God’s will or help others. Instead, the denial has to do with our desire to place ourselves first. Placing God first instead shifts our outlook away from our own navels and out toward the rest of the world right in front of us.

In the end, like a good prophet, Jeremiah anticipates Jesus’s message in the Gospel of Matthew. He understandably and rightly offers his cry of lament to God, embracing the suffering, fear, disappointment, and embarrassment that he experiences as a result of his carrying the cross of following God’s will. But his exclamation doesn’t stop there. Jeremiah says:

I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.

He at first considers a plan of his own devising — yes, he’ll stop doing what God desires, no longer risk preaching and proclaiming the word of God. Instead he will be silent and enjoy the peace and comfort he once had.

Except, he can’t do that. He realizes that he has a burning desire to proclaim God’s word, to announce the dissatisfaction that God has with the ways in which we human beings treat one another and the rest of creation. Though he tries to be silent, tries to enjoy a ‘normal’ life, he grows “weary holding it in” and must continue with the proclamation. And this is what some scripture commentators refer to as the “prophetic burden,” the drive and fervor the prophet has to proclaim the word of God.

May we find ourselves, even in the midst of frustration, embarrassment, discomfort, and doubt, with the word of God burning like a fire in our hearts. May we grow weary of trying to keep that held in and instead, dare to pick up our crosses, deny ourselves, and be the prophets the world so desperately needs. May we all share in the prophetic burden.

Photo: Stock

Endorsements for ‘Postmodernity and Univocity’

Posted in Postmodernity and Univocity, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

FortressBookThough I’m currently on the road recording the audio version of my forthcoming book, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton (Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press), which is due out in late September, I have been simultaneously involved in the final stages of the editorial production process for my book, Postmodernity and Univocity: A Critical Account of Radical Orthodoxy and John Duns Scotus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press). Yes, it seems like a lot (and it can feel like a lot), both of these books weigh in heavily at 280+ pp and 220+ pp respectively — nothing makes that so clear as sitting in a recording studio reading one out loud for several days on end.

I don’t have to worry about needing to read this manuscript for there will certainly not be an audio version of Postmodernity and Univoicty. As you might tell from the title itself, this is not one of my books aimed at a more-popular audience, but rather it is an academic monograph that evaluates the Radical Orthodoxy movement’s use of the thought and legacy of the medieval philosopher and theologian John Duns Scotus. In short, Radical Orthodoxy thinkers have established a widely embraced narrative that Scotus is responsible for laying the foundation for all that is wrong with modernity. However, their presentation of the subtle doctor‘s work is inaccurate and has subsequently positioned Scotus as the boogeyman and/or scapegoat of theology par excellence. This book offers an alternative reading as a corrective to the Radical Orthodoxy view.

My editors at Fortress Press have recently sent me the endorsements they solicited for the book and I am humbled and honored to have received these. I am delighted to share these with you here and hope that these blurbs may get you as excited about the release of this book in December as I am. I want also to express my gratitude to each of these four scholars for their generosity in reading the manuscript and responding so favorably.

“This book provides a careful and fair-minded rebuttal of the presentation of Duns Scotus’s thought proposed by the theologians of Radical Orthodoxy. Horan meticulously describes Scotus’s own view and in doing so offers a valuable corrective to the misrepresentations found so frequently in recent literature on the subject.”
——Richard Cross, University of Notre Dame

“This is an important book and a long overdue one. Dan Horan has boldly confronted the misreading of Duns Scotus by adherents of Radical Orthodoxy and brilliantly illuminates their metaphysical flaws. At the same time, he shows a correct understanding of univocal being and discusses why Scotus’s metaphysics provides a coherent basis for a postmodern theology. This book can help bridge the relationship between science and religion by providing a correct reading of univocal being, and it can open up new paths of dialogue that have become stifled by theological and philosophical differences.”
—— Ilia Delio, OSF, Georgetown University

“Daniel Horan argues meticulously that Radical Orthodoxy’s ‘Scotus Story’ seriously misunderstands the philosophy of John Duns Scotus. Hence, Scotus cannot be the villain of their story of the rise of secular, idolatrous modernity with its ‘space apart from God.’ By placing Scotus in the context of his actual debates (with Henry of Ghent more than Thomas Aquinas) and concerns (epistemological and semantic as primary, and metaphysical as derivative), Horan not only effectively undermines the keystone of Radical Orthodoxy’s historical narrative but offers a more persuasive portrayal of Scotus’s central achievements.”
—— Terrence W. Tilley, Fordham University

“Daniel Horan has presented a spirited challenge to Radical Orthodoxy’s ‘Scotist illiteracy’ by identifying the rhetorical sleights of hand of its major voices. Horan clearly inhabits the living tradition of a vital Franciscan theology, long overshadowed by a reactionary overdependence on Thomism in much of contemporary antimodern theology. Postmodernity and Univocity is at once a critical and constructive erudite study, but distinguished by exceptional accessibility and clarity in style.”
—— Susan Abraham, Loyola Marymount University 

Airport Mass, Pope Francis’s Solidarity in Korea

Posted in Pope Francis with tags , , , , on August 24, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

lima-airport-chapelDespite the summer lull in my posting here at DatingGod.org, the number of subscribers continues to grow by the day. So before I chime in with some of the latest (and likely random) thoughts and reflections, I want to express my gratitude to those who continue to stick with the blog and, explicitly or more tacitly, encourage me to continue. Thanks!

Now for the latest.

First, I’m writing from the road. The month of August has been a busy one for me travel-wise. A combination of retreats, speaking engagements, and a weeklong vacation has occupied the first three weeks of August and led me to criss-cross the United States. After two days at home in Boston, I’m back on the road. This weekend began with a short visit to Manhattan for the solemn profession of three of our brothers at St. Francis of Assisi Church on 31st Street — always a joyful event! Today I found myself en route yet again with a stopover in Washington, DC, during which I happened to be at the airport at the same time that Catholic Mass was celebrated in the interfaith chapel. 

Though I’ve been aware of these chapels for a long time and happen to know well the coordinator of the airport chapels in Chicago, Mike Brennan, I have never actually participated in a liturgy despite my abnormally regular presence at airports. I don’t often fly on Sundays, usually because I’m somewhere where I will speak or preach or preside at Mass, so that’s the one day of the week you’re least likely to find me in a terminal. 

But this Sunday I was at the right place at the right time and what I experienced was very interesting.

It was a very mixed experience. On the one hand, the small chapel was filled to capacity. The miniature congregation was composed of a diverse representation of airport employees and travelers, baggage handlers and pilots, tourists and business travelers (and at least one undercover priest). There were men and women of many different ethnicities and races, ages and sizes. It was a microcosm of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. 

The faith of my sisters and brothers with whom I sat in close proximity in the tiny space inspired me and gave me great hope.

The only downside was — drum roll please — the presiding style and homily. The elderly priest who presided seemed like a very nice man, and I commend him for his efforts. It seemed clear that he was retired and slower than he probably once was, but he tried…somewhat. Despite the room being packed, he never invited any of the members of the assembly to volunteer to read the scripture, but instead plowed through all four readings himself. It was the closest experience of a “tridentine-like mass” in the vernacular (no full and active participation) that I’ve had. We were more or less “watching” as passive observers, occasionally reciting our prayers and receiving the eucharistic species at communion. The homily also left a lot to be desired. I won’t say much more about that, I imagine there are plenty of times incognito priests and religious could say similar things about this or that homily of mine. The only thing to say is that it is never, never ok to tell people that “if you don’t understand the church’s teaching, get yourself a catechism.” Nope. Everybody there was a practicing Catholic, therefore baptized and in full communion with the church — no catechumens to be found. A Catechism is a fine quick-reference tool and guide for instructing those in RCIA. That’s all. 

Even with that less-than-stellar review, I must say that I am very grateful for the work of this priest and of those, like Mike in Chicago, who generously give of their time and ministry to make the sacraments available to those who find themselves on the road on Sundays, especially those (such as myself) who have to be on the road a lot. Thank you!

Second, I want to draw your attention to an excellent article by The Boston Globe‘s John Allen about Pope Francis’s visit to Korea last week (“Two Pins in South Korea Show A Pope Doing it His Way“). The piece recounts and explains the significance of the Holy Father’s seemingly extemporaneous decisions to wear two pins at various points during his trip. The first was a yellow ribbon worn in solidarity with those nearly 300 people who lost their lives, many high-shool kids, on the ferry that sunk off the coast. This was significant in large part because a pope typically does not publicly express views that could be viewed as offensive or threatening to the leadership of a country which he is visiting. Despite the political implications, Pope Francis nevertheless chose to express his solidarity and concern for those who were suffering in the wake of this tragedy. 

The second pin was given to Pope Francis by a group of “comfort women,” Korean women who were forced into sexual work during the occupation of the Japanese. The controversy surrounding this action had little to do with the pin or the women, but where and when he wore the pin — on his chasuble during mass. Now even I get uncomfortable with this one, but after taking a proverbial “step back” was able to see the powerful witness given in this action. Presiders don’t have the prerogative to make changes to the vestments, etc., during the celebration of the liturgy. It is, literally, the work of the people (from the Greek leiturgia), the celebration and worship of the whole Body of Christ, the church. It is not this or that priest’s “show time.”

Yet, there are occasions when, like Jesus to the scrupulous religious leaders of his time as recounted in the Gospels, we need to break from the traditions of our making in order to honor a higher responsibility. In this case, Pope Francis gave witness to the extreme pastoral need in a difficult situation, recognizing that what Jesus would have done is exactly that or more. It is a call for humility, a reminder of who is really presiding over every assembly in worship — Jesus Christ.

I encourage you all to take a look at Allen’s article, and wish everybody a wonderful end of the summer and start of the Fall. After this short stay in DC, I’m off to record the audio version of my forthcoming book, The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton, which is due out in just about a month.

Photo: File
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 750 other followers

%d bloggers like this: