The Dilemma of Mr Moore

There’s nothing positive to say about this defense of US Senate candidate Roy Moore:

Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter

Judge Roy Moore.jpgA few of my Catholic fb friends took deep offense at it. I certainly would. I put no confidence in the “safe” depictions of Saint Joseph as an elderly man. The assumption being that an older man would somehow be more trustworthy in living with an ever-virgin. Plus explaining Jesus’ brothers.

Some evangelical Christians sniff in disapproval, though they dearly want to go anti-Dem in their election.

Such a tough situation for our friends the culturewarriors. They might protest the timely convenience of these allegations against Mr Moore. But coming in the year of #metoo, I think such complaints are emptier than they would be in the past. And then there’s 1997, when impeachment was conducted with such glee. Going after sexual misbehavior is already an American pastime. And it’s very, very doubtful that liberals or conservatives are more guilty than their opposite camp.

No doubt, some people are crowing about this opportunity to pick up a Senate seat for the blue side. Any scandal will do. And it looks as though conservatives will twist themselves into knots to justify support for a credibly-accused politician. Any excuse will do. It may be unfortunate that the man likely won’t clear his name before the election next month. But five accusers with a story that’s not that far beyond belief for American Protestants. Just a generation or two ago a single thirtysomething man and teenage girls wouldn’t have raised many eyebrows in some circumstances.

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Aparecida 266: Mary, Disciple and Missionary

Over the coming week, we will explore the role of Mary in the evangelizing mission of Latin America and the Caribbean. This section is titled, “Mary, disciple and missionary.” Does that help us to pause and ponder? These are true titles, but not ones usually associated with the Blessed Mother.

Mary is a means of seeing and affirming the Trinity:

266. The greatest realization of Christian existence as trinitarian living as “children in the Son” is given us by the Virgin Mary, who by her faith (cf. Lk 1:45) and obedience to God’s will (cf. Lk 1:38) and by her constant meditation on the Word and on the actions of Jesus (cf. Lk 2:19, 51), is the Lord’s most perfect disciple.(Cf. Lumen Gentium 53)

Vatican II professes her as “disciple.” She is also a member of the community of believers–that sounds like a commonality with us.

As the Father’s interlocutor in his project of sending his Word to the world for human salvation, Mary, by her faith, becomes the first member of the community of believers in Christ, and also collaborates in the spiritual rebirth of the disciples. Her figure emerges from the Gospel as a free and strong woman, consciously directed toward true following of Christ.

Mary is also a pilgrim:

She has fully experienced the entire pilgrimage of faith as mother of Christ and then of the disciples, and yet has not been saved from incomprehension and continually having to seek the Father’s project. Thus she came to stand at the foot of the cross in deep communion, so as to then fully enter into the mystery of the covenant.

That notion of pilgrimage is important. Perhaps we think the purpose of a pilgrimage is to find Mary. If we were to look deeply, would we find her with us, seeking us as she once sought her son? (Cf. Luke 2:41-52)

For deeper examination, check this English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.


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Alien Intelligence

Arrival, Movie Poster.jpgYou read that term and what do you think? You know of my hobbies in astronomy and reading science fiction. If you are reading here, and even if you are turned off by one or both, you likely think of beings from another planet. Maybe they come to visit Earth. If I were more of a political animal, you might slide past the most common interpretation of that small phrase and consider I might be talking about Latin Americans being smart, or other nations penetrating the US with their spycraft operations.

I watched two documentaries recently that suggested ways in which plants seem to respond to their environment with a degree of intelligence, despite lacking brains, nervous systems, and sense organs we associate with animals, especially ourselves. I think also of the so-called battle of the sexes in which the thoughts and behaviors of men are inscrutable to women at times. And vice versa. In fact, one relationship guru from a few decades ago built a whole cottage industry teaching us about the chasm that separates Venus from Mars, despite the fact we live together on the planet in the middle. And now we have the phenomenon of trans persons at once being bothersome to some of us and our cherished notions of sex or gender or self-identity. Aliens, too–right?

I watched Arrival and I can’t recommend this film enough. As with Contact, the film’s braintrust found an intelligent and sensitive actor to anchor the lead role of a scientist who happens to be a woman and a person of intriguing depth. Now, there’s an alien thought–compared to the 50s. Or even the seventies.

Speaking of that decade, I think of a film like this one, considered to be groundbreaking. It’s still well-regarded, but I’d offer a counterpoint complaint about it. Four decades ago I didn’t like the way “peaceful” aliens were doing weird and clumsy things to people. It suggested to me they’re not really all that intelligent. Even if they are dealing with ants on an anthill.

Let’s compare the origins of these three stories:

In 1997, they had an astronomer find the message from aliens and (mostly) decode it. In 2016, there’s an astrophysicist, but he takes a supporting role to a linguist. Ms Adams’ Louise Banks is recruited by the American government to communicate with aliens who are hovering over a valley in Montana. Eleven other strange vessels are hovering over other points around the world, and for a while, scientists are sharing results as the rest of society descends into chaos.

There’s little physical action in this film, a welcome relief (imo) from the avalanche of superhero cinema. Instead, there’s a thoughtful progress of understanding. The human “adversaries” among the military and spy agencies aren’t too badly cardboard. (Social media, however, is not treated as kindly–and given the tenor of the internet these days, I’d say they got off easy.) Dr Banks is largely successful in pushing back against her handlers who want fast action on their project before the Russians and the Chinese get somewhere first.

Louise is presented as a pro at the top of her game, but she battles the long hours, and a history that includes losing a daughter to a rare disease and a husband to divorce. Colleagues and viewers may wonder about her condition. But she solves the big riddle, and as the world lurches into war against aliens, there’s a plot revelation as stunning as anything I’ve seen in film.

Arrival confirms yet again that if you want to do good science fiction cinema or film, you go to a good science fiction writer. There’s no silliness in this movie. It’s outstanding sf because it takes a single concept (how aliens think and communicate) and extrapolates how one person moves through life in a new way because of her encounter.

When it comes to alien intelligence, we desperately need human intelligence to communicate wisely through our available media.

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Pouting On The Porch

An unfortunate and inaccurate piece of the headline at RNS: heresy debate divides church.

Francis issued a video message to a conference organized by Italian bishops on his controversial 2016 document on family life, “The Joy of Love.” The document has badly divided the Catholic Church, with some commentators warning that it risked creating a schism given its opening to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics.

Image result for poutingWe are seeing less a phenomenon of schism and more of elder siblings retreating to the front porch to go into an all-out pout.

No marital break-up is quite the same. Canon law can be stretched to include people outside of Catholicism, but often enough, declarations of nullity are a difficult to impossible point for a number of people. It’s a good thing that bishops, pastors, and confessors are seen as the front lines these days on divorce and remarriage. Especially the trickier situations that have been settled by internal forum as of late.

Critics of Pope Francis have two serious biblical tripping points. First, the hijacking of 1 Corinthians 11:17ff out of its context of a worship abuse based on inhospitality and arrogance of the rich. Nothing is listed in Saint Paul about people approaching the table communion with sins other than the larger reference. We can accept the teaching as a generality, and certainly apply it more widely. Every opportunity to engage in the sacramental life should merit careful conscientiousness from sinners. But we should be clear the apostle isn’t preaching specifically at all remarried believers.

Jesus’ citation of describing divorce and remarriage as adultery is well-taken. It is an example of a common technique he used. But there remain two challenges: a discrimination against (or ignorance of) his other pronouncements with (or without) rabbinical exaggeration, plus any number of situations in which one can objectively question the existence of mortal sin–the classical definition that includes knowledge and intent. Supposedly, the annulment process covers some of this. But it still doesn’t cover some fairly common ground: divorces among non-Catholics, Catholic partners who lack the intent to commit serious sin (escaping from abuse, neglect, addiction), not to mention marriages which have simply ended years in the past. The sacramental bond may or may not be in evidence, but the union of woman and man is long dead.

Divorce and remarriage certainly never applies to #faithfulCatholics, so maybe it’s best to let this one go. Maybe place some trust in another sacramental situation–the one that has given us confessors and pastors since the beginning.

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Aparecida 264-265: The Legitimacy of Popular Piety

Today we conclude our examination of popular piety with the Aparecida bishops. They cite their Puebla document from 1979, affirmed by Pope Benedict XVI:

264. Popular spirituality is a legitimate way of living the faith, a way of feeling part of the Church and a manner of being missionaries, where the deepest vibrations of America’s depths come together. It is part of a “cultural historic originality”(Puebla Document 446) of the poor of this continent, and fruit of a “synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith.”(Introductory Address 1) In the environment of secularization experienced by our peoples, it is still a powerful confession of the living God who acts in history, and a channel for handing on the faith. Journeying together to shrines and taking part in other manifestations of popular piety, also taking one’s children or inviting others, is in itself an evangelizing gesture by which the Christian people evangelizes itself and fulfills the Church’s missionary calling.

And so we are drawn back into the major theme of evangelization. Popular piety serves as a shared human experience that draws people to Christ. Intellectual persuasion has a place in Christianity. I’ve become attached to the notion this is more important in situations where faith is already present and seeks confirmation. It is true that God made us beings with intellect. Our level of braininess is unique, perhaps, in creation. But we also possess a depth of emotional life that appears equally rare, if not unique. To express ourselves as fully human, we may well need to explore ways in which we can gaze on a love more concrete, a love in which God and his saints take part. They reach to us:

265. Our peoples particularly identify with the suffering Christ; they look at him, kiss him or touch his wounded feet as though saying: This is he “who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Many of them, beaten, ignored, dispossessed, hold their arms aloft. With their characteristic religiosity, they firmly adhere to the immense love that God has for them and that continually reminds them of their own dignity. They also find God’s affection and love in the face of Mary. In it they see reflected the essential gospel message. From the shrine of Guadalupe our beloved Mother makes her littlest children feel that they are in the fold of her cloak. Now from Aparecida she invites them to cast their nets into the world to bring out of anonymity those who are sunk in oblivion, and bring them to the light of faith. Gathering her children, she brings our peoples together around Jesus Christ.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Aparecida 263: Popular Piety and Transcendance

263. We cannot deprecate popular spirituality, or consider it a secondary mode of Christian life, for that would be to forget the primacy of the action of the Spirit and God’s free initiative of love.

I have come to agree with this. As I reflect on my own life, the personal encounters in this realm have often opened me up as much or more than my experiences of liturgy. I’d have to admit that my most memorable experiences at the celebrations of Mass and the sacraments were not intellectually-charged as much as they were breakthroughs outside of mental enlightenment.

Popular piety contains and expresses a powerful sense of transcendence, a spontaneous ability to find support in God and a true experience of theological love. It is also an expression of supernatural wisdom, because the wisdom of love does not depend directly on the enlightenment of the mind, but on the internal action of grace. That is why we call it popular spirituality, that is, a Christian spirituality which, while it is a personal encounter with the Lord, includes much of the bodily, the perceptible, the symbolic, and people’s most concrete needs. It is a spirituality incarnated in the culture of the lowly, which is not thereby less spiritual, but is so in another manner.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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Aparecida 262: Careful Discernment Of Popular Piety

Many of  my ministry colleagues have looked with concern on popular piety. Certainly, excesses are well-documented and raise worries. The Aparecida bishops suggest that piety is a “starting point.” Let’s explore that a bit:

262. It is true that faith that was incarnated in the culture can be deepened and permeate ever better how our peoples live. But this can happen only if we value positively what the Holy Spirit has already sown. Popular piety is an “indispensable starting point in deepening the faith of the people and in bringing it to maturity.” (Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy 64)

The citation is given to the DPPL, but they got it from quoting the Latin American bishops’ document after their Puebla Conference. Perhaps we might like to think that the sacraments, especially the Mass should have a central role. But even north of the Rio Grande, hundreds of thousands of Catholics lack access to regular sacramental celebrations. Popular piety also sustained the Church when the vernacular was not available in worship.

Bishops advise appropriate discernment:

Hence, the missionary disciple must be “sensitive to it, know how to perceive its interior dimensions and undeniable values.”(EN 48) When we say that it has to be evangelized or purified, we do not mean that it is devoid of gospel wealth. We simply want all members of the believing people, recognizing the testimony of Mary and also of the saints, to try to imitate them more each day. Thus they will strive for a more direct contact with the Bible and greater participation in the sacraments, come to enjoy the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist, and express even better the service of love in solidarity in their lives. This is the way which will make it possible to draw on the rich potential of holiness and social justice encompassed in the people’s mysticism.

In what I have seen and experienced, people engaged by devotional practices quite often find a richer experience in the Word and liturgy. When the bishops here write of a sensitivity, the implication is that leaders get to know the people personally, are able to hear their testimony, see their faith in action, and walk with them to new areas of grace.

For deeper examination, an English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference.

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