Family Fail

Did a conference break out at Pope Francis’s appearance in Philadelphia? A mixed review is here. In addition to the criticisms mentioned, no workshop on adoption. Big miss.

The perspective of family is easy when one is a fertile parent. Or a celibate, I suppose. Not so much when one lacks parents, is housed in a community facility, and is considered “unadoptable” because of racial background, or being of age to speak and walk.

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“What About You?”

I liked Pope Francis’s homiletic exploration of the call and response of one of my country’s great saints. It’s a question for the whole vector of the disciple’s life.

(Pope Leo) asked her pointedly: “What about you? What are you going to do?”. Those words changed Katharine’s life, because they reminded her that, in the end, every Christian man and woman, by virtue of baptism, has received a mission.

One thing that struck me in this is the suggestion that this was not a revelation to Katharine, but a reminder. How often, deep down, do we know what to do? A disciple is attuned to the Teacher’s call.

Is the impulse to follow Jesus with a life only of ordained or religious life? I think that position can be rejected outright. A century and a half ago, a pope of another era addressed a question to a young lay woman. That is where the question originates today, a call to the lay person. Not only to people who have achieved a sacramental or vowed state. Not to church professionals alone. The question is often posed to the young.

(Those words) made her think of the immense work that had to be done, and to realize that she was being called to do her part. How many young people in our parishes and schools have the same high ideals, generosity of spirit, and love for Christ and the Church! Do we challenge them? Do we make space for them and help them to do their part? To find ways of sharing their enthusiasm and gifts with our communities, above all in works of mercy and concern for others? Do we share our own joy and enthusiasm in serving the Lord?

These are essential questions. They are queries that might more readily come to the lips of teachers, catechists, godparents, clergy, ministers, and even parents. I was struck by the combination of values suggested: challenge, making space, and help.

Challenge: what does that look like? It probably doesn’t involve helicopter blades. My sense is that it involves really getting to know young people, and noticing emerging charisms. The challenge for us older Catholics is that we can expect to see potential when we look at young people. It will take a bit more than delegating youth ministry to a single professional in our parishes. Or shipping our adolescents off to educational institutions until they are in their twenties.

To me making space involves a selective withdrawal from some activities so as to make room for others. It involves qualities some Catholics find difficult: welcoming, inclusion, and trust of newcomers.

How do we challenge young people, and make room for them, but also help appropriately? Getting to know each person we encounter.

It’s about baptism. Baptism is the path to true discipleship:

One of the great challenges facing the Church in this generation is to foster in all the faithful a sense of personal responsibility for the Church’s mission, and to enable them to fulfill that responsibility as missionary disciples, as a leaven of the Gospel in our world.

The term “missionary disciples” is offered. That adjective alludes to the mission of the Church, which is decidedly not preservation. It is not determined by committee meetings either. It goes to the core of Jesus’s mandate to the original Christian disciples: going forth to the world and making disciples, making followers of the Lord.

This will require creativity in adapting to changed situations, carrying forward the legacy of the past not primarily by maintaining our structures and institutions, which have served us well, but above all by being open to the possibilities which the Spirit opens up to us and communicating the joy of the Gospel, daily and in every season of our life.

In other words, a respect for the past and its accomplishments, but new and creative ways of serving in the world. Build on the past, but look for new possibilities. It’s another way of saying we have the opportunity to explore new space.

And this:

In a particular way, it means valuing the immense contribution which women, lay and religious, have made and continue to make, to the life of our communities.


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On My Bookshelf: Theology of Christian Marriage II

Theology of Christian MarriageIn the introduction to his Theology of Christian Marriage, Walter Kasper cites the “very close connection between the order of creation and the order of redemption in marriage.”

My paraphrase would be that the former is how God made us, and the latter is how God saves us. Cardinal Kasper’s premise is to start with “the human sciences (medicine, psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, ethnology, and so on) have to say about marriage.

Is this starting point somehow biased against the redemptive aspect or giving a privileged place to the human intellect? Not quite.

This does not mean that the theology of marriage can be reduced to a number of anthropological statements, or that it should be adapted to anonymous pressure of the modern social consciousness. Such an adaptation would certainly not further Christian freedom, which, in the imitation of Jesus, always calls for courage from Christians so that they can to some extent be nonconformists.

This passage is illustrative of this theologian’s approach. It seems that some of the more excitable rigorists overstate the case for pandering or disloyalty or the collapse of theological tradition. It also seems one extreme position would be a refusal to examine the possibility of reform just because the institution is in crisis. The other would be total concession to modern human practice. Clearly, neither of those is espoused by Cardinal Kasper or other mainstream theologians.

Note also that the result of this is a community of Christians living in the world, but not conformed to it. It seems like everybody on the front lines of this discussion is advocating a position apart from modern human culture.



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Laudato Si 105: Does Power Equal Progress?

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website.

105. There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigor; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”,[Romano Guardini, Das Ende der Neuzeit, 9th ed., Würzburg, 1965, 87 (English: The End of the Modern World, Wilmington, 1998, 82)] as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.

Perhaps we tally the exterior accomplishments and tout them as progress. It can be harder to assess either morality or the truth, especially if power blinds us to the harm we inflict.

The fact is that “contemporary (humankind) has not been trained to use power well”,[Ibidem] because our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience. Each age tends to have only a meager awareness of its own limitations.

Part of our human nature, it would seem: offenders are often in denial. Even people who are not objectively sinners have difficulty gazing at situations from the vantage point of other people.

It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us. “The risk is growing day by day that man will not use his power as he should”; in effect, “power is never considered in terms of the responsibility of choice which is inherent in freedom” since its “only norms are taken from alleged necessity, from either utility or security”.[Ibidem 87-88 (The End of the Modern World, 83)] But human beings are not completely autonomous. Our freedom fades when it is handed over to the blind forces of the unconscious, of immediate needs, of self-interest, and of violence. In this sense, we stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint.

People with ample resources, and a free-wheeling stance with others can be quite superficial. Human nature again: we turn to God when in need. When we are in plenty, we might attribute fruitfulness to our own works.

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Staff Liner

staff linerCleaning out the music room at my new parish, I found something I hadn’t seen in years.

There are no blackboards left in the building; the parish converted to white and dry-erase markers years ago.

Anybody still using these?

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On My Bookshelf: Theology of Christian Marriage

Theology of Christian MarriageTo keep informed on the upcoming synod,  I’ve been reading Walter Kasper’s Theology of Christian Marriage. It’s been on my literal bookshelf for many years, but until this year I had never cracked it.

In the introduction, the author relates that the topics of this book were originally papers or based on his theological activities in the 1970’s. My Crossroad edition was printed in 1984, translated four years prior, and originally published in German in 1977. So that locates the presentations of this book for us.

As of this writing, I’ve read about a third of it. It’s not hard–this translation comes off better than other German theologians I have read. While the hot-button issues of the day get a lot of attention, I find Professor Kasper to be gentle, respectful, and honest in his dealings with history, theology, and the Magisterium’s approach. Perhaps the opposition is partially political: Walter Kasper is sufficiently unlike his foils, therefore suspect.

Unlike other book reviews in this long-running series, I’d like to peel out a number of insights that struck me, or will nudge me as I make progress through this volume. This book is not long–only 84 pages. With some German-language theologians that might only be a sentence or two. But I would recommend my audience read this book. Even opponents should know what the man really presents, especially if you are convinced his proposals deserve defeat.

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Laudato Si 104: The Power of Technology

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. What’s the saying? With great power comes great responsibility?

104. Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used. We need but think of the nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people, to say nothing of the increasingly deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare. In whose hands does all this power lie, or will it eventually end up? It is extremely risky for a small part of humanity to have it.

Yet the nuclear argument is” the fewer the better. And sometimes those in power go back on their earlier decisions. It was a British and American decision, for example, to share nuclear energy with Iran in the 1950’s. A gesture of alliance and friendship now turned sour, it would seem. Who decides who shares? It might be said, once an atom is split, we can’t forget how we did it. But perhaps a wider discussion is needed among those who lack the “power” and a sharing, by them, of how such power in energy, genetics, or computers gets used. Not an easy thing to share, it would seem.

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