Laudato Si 81: The Consequences of Personhood

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Evolution may be a part of life on Earth, and even the state of Creation being incomplete. But it doesn’t totally explain the human situation. We are more than biology:

81. Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself.

Our personhood beckons us to share personally with others and with God. The consequence of that is that people cannot be dismissed as cogs in a larger biological system.

Our capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art, along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology. The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to relationship on the part of a “Thou” who addresses himself to another “thou”. The biblical accounts of creation invite us to see each human being as a subject who can never be reduced to the status of an object.

It occurs to me that even in the science fiction thought experiments of a human race evolved to higher levels, our breakthrough into personhood bestows on us a status beyond those living things that do not transcend into awareness. Even if an alien race, or a more advanced form of human life were to sweep us away, it would remain an uncivilized act of barbarism. And this was certainly true for the European conquerors and colonizers of previous centuries. As long as disrespect is perpetrated by the powerful, we cannot say with truth and confidence that we have truly achieved civilization.

Posted in Laudato Si | Leave a comment

In Paradisum

piano and dulcimerAs a player of plucked and hammered instruments, I have yet to encounter a plainsong melody that doesn’t work wonderfully well on these. Voices, yes, of course are optimal. But there is something about plainsong on an instrument like the hammered dulcimer and its sustained tones that works for me. It might just be my long affinity for the instrument.

I’m finding just a select few people in my new parish exposed to plainsong. But one couple I met with recently raised the issue. They settled on a choir piece and a solo for the prelude. But In Paradisum came up, and they decided I would play it on hammered dulcimer.

As I was preparing a score this afternoon, I was thinking back to the last time I played it–at another funeral back at the campus parish. One elderly couple were especially fond of chant, and on the occasions I pulled something out for Mass or Reconciliation, they would often comment on it. They always knew the tune, which probably says more about my limited repertoire of twenty-something than anything else.

Posted in Music | Tagged | 3 Comments

More On Forgiving Abortion

Providence bishop Thomas Tobin on the pope’s initiative:

Most dioceses have had permission to (forgive abortion) that for many, many years — so while it’s a wonderful gesture on behalf of the Holy Father, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference here in Rhode Island.

There are actually a few reasons why it could make a difference.

First, Pope Francis is quite aware of attitudes within the Church, especially coming from hard-core Catholics, that some things are unforgiveable. Certainly, there’s nothing on the books about unforgiveable sins. I wonder if Bishop Tobin polled inactive Rhode Island Catholics about the local priest’s ability to forgive abortion if he would find a difference from his own understanding.

Second, that excommunication thing–something that even many inactive Catholics know about.

Third, the Holy Father is setting an example for bishops. Bishops preach the Gospel and take the message and person of Jesus to the peripheries. They do not assist the Gospel when, as a private person, they emphasize which events they will or won’t attend because they agree or not with others in attendance, and which events people who disagree with them will not attend.

Fourth, I think we actually want more people to come to church and go to confession not just in the Jubilee but from now on. This is a difference that could be happening, and we’d be happy about it, right? Clearly, the scolding approach hasn’t worked wonders.

Fifth, confessors are getting an opportunity for continuing formation, especially if they check Pope Francis’s explanation.

It’s not really that hard.

This blogpost labels it PR. Again, I think of it as continuing formation of clergy–catechesis if you will. Perhaps it is “R” in the sense of relations, or relationship. I might ask why shouldn’t that be made public?

Somehow, I don’t think Pope Francis would mind if an enterprising bishop or pastor made his own announcement this weekend that from henceforth, not only would the sin of abortion be forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance, but all other sins. Even things like gossip, disrespect, giving false witness, and–gasp!–blogging in anger. And more, to pick up on the pope’s gesture, it would extend beyond the end of the Jubilee.

Posted in Church News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Laudato Si 80: A Creation Incomplete

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Even when we’ve gotten in our own way with regard to care for the environment–and ourselves–God is able to thwart the darkness.

80. Yet God, who wishes to work with us and who counts on our cooperation, can also bring good out of the evil we have done. “The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, including the most complex and inscrutable”.[John Paul II, Catechesis (24 April 1991), 6: Insegnamenti 14 (1991), 856.]

The metaphor of knots is an interesting introduction here, given devotion of Pope Francis for Mary, Untier of them. Perhaps the most inscrutable “knot” is the persistence of human suffering. The Catechism reflects on it:

Creating a world in need of development, God in some way sought to limit himself in such a way that many of the things we think of as evils, dangers or sources of suffering, are in reality part of the pains of childbirth which he uses to draw us into the act of cooperation with the Creator.[The Catechism explains that God wished to create a world which is “journeying towards its ultimate perfection”, and that this implies the presence of imperfection and physical evil; cf. CCC 310]

God does not interfere with human freedom, to the lament of many:

God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs.[Gaudium et Spes 36] His divine presence, which ensures the subsistence and growth of each being, “continues the work of creation”.[Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 104, art. 1 ad 4] The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move themselves to take the form of a ship”.[Ibid., In octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis expositio, Lib. II, lectio 14]

So Creation is incomplete. What are we to make of that? Has God entrusted human beings with some small portion of bringing forth things that are new? It would certainly be new if we made a more concerted effort to uphold justice for the oppressed, to go out of our way to care for the needy and offer a hand up and out to safety, and to care for what has already been given to us in the natural world. Or is it too much to ask of lowly creatures such as ourselves? To be honest, I’d almost welcome the sight of people rolling up their sleeves out of frustration with the Almighty and saying, “Let’s show You how it’s done!”

Posted in Laudato Si | Leave a comment


new low gluten hostJust curious: what do you make of Steve Skojec’s call for boycotting the reception of communion at Pope Francis’s outdoor Masses later this month? I don’t know about those less scrupulous than I, but this blog-post is scary enough to make me think of what would happen if we just had clergy celebrate Mass in hermetically sealed vaults and never let the laity receive Communion at all. Far safer, to be sure.

Posted in The Blogosphere | Tagged | 12 Comments

What Pope Francis Intends On Abortion Forgiveness

Lots of commentary today to overshadow the observance of the day for the care of all creation, not the least of which is Pope Francis’s announcement on forgiving abortion. Where John Allen sees a “double-play,” and Ed Peters is “less confused,” I see something rather simple.

A pastor wants people who have sincere contrition over having procured an abortion to be reconciled to God.

For most people, the distinction between sin and crime in canon law is irrelevant. What they “know” is that abortion is a nearly unforgiveable sin. Angry political pro-lifers, including some clergy, reinforce it often, drowning out the Church’s voice of compassion. What Pope Francis has done is cut through the raging static.

That’s all.

The other facets of the Jubilee are easy to understand. It boils down to this: if a person needs forgiveness, they can get it in the typical way: be sorry for one’s sins, confess, and be absolved. The crime of assisting a person in getting an abortion and the sin of mass murder are each treatable through the ministry of a confessor, schismatic or otherwise.

Or maybe Pope Francis intends something totally different and has no grasp of canon law. My hunch is that critics are not pastors–true pastors, anyway. The point is to draw sinners closer to Christ. My sense is that this will do it, at least for a few needy people.

It would also not surprise that the Holy Father is playing a deep game of conscience-pricking with the front-porch Catholics, and nudging them to a more thorough discernment on their own attitudes. But as we know with abortion-on-demand, it can be very hard to break through to a group that has already decided things for themselves and tolerates no input from the outside.

Posted in Church News, Commentary, Rite of Penance | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

On Counter-Witnessing

Pope Francis was relatively gentle in his Sunday sermon at the Angelus:

We all know in our communities, in our parishes, in our neighborhoods how much hurt they do the church, and give scandal, those persons that call themselves “Very Catholic.”

They go often to church, but after, in their daily life, ignore the family, speak ill of others, and so on. This is that which Jesus condemns because this is a Christian “counter-witness.”

For my part, there’s a hope that this will cause less public consternation, especially on blogs, and more inner reflection. No believer is so perfect that she or he doesn’t provide an occasional counter-witness to Christ from time to time. If Pope Francis were not so gentle, he might well and accurately suggest the “orthodox, faithful” Catholics have been seduced by the goddess of pelagianism. Following the letter of the law does not indicate virtue, loyalty, or a secret word from the Lord that one has been let in on the judicial panel for the Last Judgment.

It is typical of Ignatian spirituality to urge the disciple to look within, to gaze carefully at everything. Absolutely everything.

Caution! With these words, Jesus also wants to put us, today, on guard against considering that the exterior observance of the law may be sufficient to be good Christians.

To be clear: it is not. It certainly isn’t the starting point.

As it was for the Pharisees, there also exists for us the danger of considering our place as better than others for the only fact of observing the rules or customs, even if we do not love our neighbor, [even if] we are hard of heart or prideful.

To be sure: following the rules is not an identifying characteristic of a Pharisee. The telltale quality is not our attitude toward law, but toward persons. Does the adherence to law lead us to compassion, to openness to God’s word, and to a concrete and visible participation with the needy? If a believer uses the law as a bludgeon, it is pretty clear that domination and a lust for superiority have triumphed over Christ’s values of compassion and love.

The lust leads to infertility:

The literal observance of the precepts is something sterile if it does not change the heart and is not translated into concrete attitudes. Opening yourself to the encounter with God and God’s word in prayer, searching for justice and peace, giving help to the poor, the weak and the oppressed.

For those inclined to see the Great Battle as being fought in some far-off Armageddon, or on someone else’s computer browsing Ashley Madison at 2AM, the real battle lines are within us.

The border between good and evil doesn’t pass outside of us but rather inside of us. And we can ask ourselves: Where is my heart?

They are always within us. Remember the message from this past Sunday?

Posted in Commentary, spirituality | Tagged , | 1 Comment