Querida Amazonia 61: An Ecclesial Dream

Pope Francis turns to An Ecclesial Dream in his post-synodal exhortation. Chapter four addresses “church stuff.” It seems to me that this addresses the church situation for the particulars of the Amazon region. People outside of this river basin might make of it as a bellwether, for good or for ill, of their own localities. That’s inevitable, but not always applicable.

Let’s read paragraph 61 in its entirety, and be prepared for the rest that follows:

61. The Church is called to journey alongside the people of the Amazon region. In Latin America, this journey found privileged expression at the Bishops’ Conference in Medellin (1968) and its application to the Amazon region at Santarem (1972),* followed by Puebla (1979), Santo Domingo (1992) and Aparecida (2007). The journey continues, and missionary efforts, if they are to develop a Church with an Amazonian face, need to grow in a culture of encounter towards “a multifaceted harmony”.[Cf. Evangelii Gaudium 220] But for this incarnation of the Church and the Gospel to be possible, the great missionary proclamation must continue to resound.

*Cf. Documents of Santarem (1972) and Manaos (1997) in NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF THE BISHOPS OF BRAZIL, Desafío missionário. Documentos da Igreja na Amazônia, Brasilia, 2014, pp. 9-28 and 67-84.

Any first thoughts?

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Whose Sin?

Do you see these viruses carrying swords of judgment? Hope not.

I’ve seen a few alarmists on social media wondering if the pandemic is God’s punishment for something. Same-sex attraction. Global warming. Something bad, and it usually seems stuff other people do. The authentic Christian tradition is pretty clear, as was Jesus:

As (Jesus) passed by
he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned,
this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered,
“Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God
might be made visible through him.” (John 9:1-3)

Right from the mouth of the Lord: “Neither he nor his parents sinned.”

That said, sometimes bad behavior does have natural consequences. An alcoholic might develop liver disease. An inattentive automobile driver might find herself or himself involved in an automobile accident. The innocent pedestrian didn’t sin. The perpetrator did. If you’re in a car, you have a much higher chance of avoiding injury or death than a flesh-and-blood being. Weighing the mutual result: death versus vehicular homicide conviction seems a skewed version of justice.

An earthquake, tornado, or other natural disaster might strike. Most all victims are innocent, unless they’ve done something silly like jump into a tectonic fault or take a shower in a hurricane. We might enjoy legendary tales like Katharine Drexel’s KKK adversaries getting their headquarters wiped out by a Texas storm. But the calamities of the innocent don’t seem to be the result of a vindictive God.

As for covid-19, I have read of higher death rates from smokers and overweight persons, as well as those already weakened by battles with cancer or diseases of the heart and/or lungs. Or just old age. A life ends sooner than some might think it should, but personal fault might or might not be involved. That said, most smokers and overeaters don’t see themselves as sinning against their human frailties. Neither are innocent people who got sick through no fault of their own.

The virus is not a tool for a vengeful God. Jesus would suggest it’s an opportunity for people to step up and into their higher instincts.

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Querida Amazonia 58-60: Ecological Education and Habits

Count me a skeptic on putting too much hope in “education.” Without internal motivation and curiosity, information often goes in one ear and out the other.

Pope Francis’ post-synodal exhortation discusses “ecological education and habits” in the three paragraphs that follow. This will conclude his “Ecological Dream,” chapter three.

What is optimal:

The best ecology always has an educational dimension that can encourage the development of new habits in individuals and groups. (QA 58)

The reality on the ground:

Sadly, many of those living in the Amazon region have acquired habits typical of the larger cities, where consumerism and the culture of waste are already deeply rooted. (Ibid.)

Change is needed, not just in the hearts of profiteers but also in persons who have been forced into urban environments and into adopting unhealthy lifestyles.  Moving beyond a physical ecology …

59. Indeed, “the emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality… Our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction”.[Laudato Si’ 204]

Pope Francis pledges the wealth of church tradition–education, spirituality, social justice–to the cause.

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Hint of Sun

Whoa! Hint of sunshine in the neighborhood today. I was up early, did some morning yoga–still a bit sore from yesterday’s workout which was mildly vigorous for an out-of-shape body. Continued with my morning routine of small breakfast, teeth, shower, dress in normal clothes, and hit the “office,” otherwise known as out mostly unused dining room table. (Confessing bad habit here: we’ve eaten in front of the tv for years now.)

We’ve gotten word from the archdiocese that streaming and video-capture Masses are to be limited to two persons at most: the priest and, if needed, the camera operator. That sinks the cathedral liturgist’s videocast at this hour (local 11AM) on how to do Holy Week. My cynical moment of the day: why should I bother now to tune into that?

I have video Bible Studies to prepare for the few weeks ahead. I’ll do briefer ones than these on the Lenten Gospels. The Palm Sunday entrance (Matthew 21:1-11), the account of washing feet (John 13:1-15), and perhaps the Isaiah reading on Good Friday (52:13-53:12). I already have some presentations from a few years ago on the Resurrection narratives. I can mine those for additional material and commentary. AS they are up, I will link here and field commentary.

I saw another fuss on social media about missing Sunday Mass, and It’s Not Really That Bad Out There. The way I see it: we have a golden opportunity to develop daily prayer routines. Christians–the active ones–are very good at the weekly. Outside of monasteries and their oblates, the everyday stuff: not so good.

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Scripture for the Sick or Dying: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25

There is a popular saying that Jesus does not give us a cross that is beyond our ability to bear. Serious illness can certainly test that notion. We might be the sick person, or even a helpless caregiver or bystander.

In reading this excerpt from 1 Corinthians, does that ring true? Christians accept the cross as more of an abstract piece. Maybe an object of devotion. Maybe decoration or jewelry. Some focus on the nature of the event as scientific: how Jesus suffered, how he died, where the nails were placed, etc..

That seems to miss the central notion of the cross as symbol and reality of our suffering. Why does it happen to us? What does it mean? If we try to analyze it, the apostle seems to say, we will fail.

The message of the cross
is foolishness to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the learning of the learned I will set aside.”
Where is the wise one?
Where is the scribe?
Where is the debater of this age?
Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish?
For since in the wisdom of God
the world did not come to know God through wisdom,
it was the will of God
through the foolishness of the proclamation
to save those who have faith.
For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called,
Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

When we look at physical misfortune, we can blame it on an unjust God. We can also attribute it to the fault of the person. Jesus rejects both these theories outright (cf. John 9:3). Suffering can be steered to the glory of God and the witness of the Gospel. It doesn’t fit with logic, or the attempt to put logic into religion. We might stumble as we try to comprehend.

Is it a good reading for someone who is sick? It could be, for someone fairly well-grounded in their faith. In the Sunday Lectionary, some of this passage is read on Lent’s Third Sunday, cycle B (2021, 2024, etc.). Lent gives one perspective, perhaps easier to follow. From the inside of serious illness, it might be a challenge. When we are vulnerable, we sometimes want to go with what we know: what our human “wisdom” has taught us.

For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.

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Querida Amazonia 53-57: The Prophecy of Contemplation

Pope Francis, in his post-synodal exhortation, devotes five paragraphs to “the prophecy of contemplation.” What does he mean by that?

It is a Jesuit discipline to contemplate the world and our experiences. The Examen guides many people devoted to Ignatian spirituality. We let ourselves view our daily lives, and we attempt to relive them with new perspective. We look back. We look around. We do so with openness to what God might be trying to communicate through our thoughts, feelings, and imagination.

53. Frequently we let our consciences be deadened, since “distractions constantly dull our realization of just how limited and finite our world really is”.[Laudato Si’ 59] From a superficial standpoint, we might well think that “things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen”.[Ibid. 56]

It does require something of a sense of sin to admit this. Another quote from Laudato Si’

“Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right”.[Ibid. 33](QA 54)

Do the Amazon people offer us a way beyond scientific analysis and head-centered approaches? The Holy Father counsels we get beyond usage into love and respect. He reminds us “we do not look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings”.[Ibid. 220] (QA 55)

56. Let us awaken our God-given aesthetic and contemplative sense that so often we let languish. Let us remember that “if someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple”.[Ibid. 215]

Calling to mind Jesus’ teaching on sparrows, Pope Francis advises:

If we respond … it will become clear that the creatures of the Amazon region are not forgotten by our heavenly Father. For Christians, Jesus himself cries out to us from their midst, “because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence”.[Ibid. 100] (QA 57) 

A final conclusion of this theme:

For all these reasons, we believers encounter in the Amazon region a theological locus, a space where God himself reveals himself and summons his sons and daughters.

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Working In Exile

Here’s the view from my “home office” window. A gray day, but full of promise for Spring. I find it requires discipline to get church tasks done here. Just today, interruptions for receiving a grocery run, a package delivery, a small argument over food left in the fridge, another discussion about ordering takeout for lunch.

I found the parish wedding booklet on my computer. It’s about eight years out of date, so I tasked myself with making some judicious edits. I don’t think we’ve even handed it out lately–not since I’ve arrived. Even though most people won’t read it cover to cover, I’m a believer in having parish policies in writing. I think it respects the people coming to us for guidance.

Some things I must remember to do:

  • Get out of bed and do my morning routine–shower, breakfast, teeth, clothes. I tried working last Friday in pajamas. I’m not cut out for that. Today I got dressed and despite the interruptions, I was mostly productive.
  • Set a schedule of hours, nine to noon, one to five. Maybe add an hour in early evening for phone calls.
  • When I need time away from computer work, I’ll make phone calls to parishioners. I try to be regular with non-internet people. I also brought home a few ministry books–this is a great time to catch up on reading.

We still don’t have published guidance from the archdiocese on the status of recording Mass. I think something was supposed to come out today, but no word from parish master control and no email from the chancery as of this afternoon.

That’s today’s report. My office assistant, left, sticks with me. She seem to follow social distancing guidelines instead of trampling across the keyboard or in front of the screen.

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