Laudato Si 102: Three Popes On Human Advancement

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Four numbered sections address the first of three themes, “TECHNOLOGY: CREATIVITY AND POWER.”

A litany of human achievement, acknowledged by Saint John Paul II as arising from a divine spark in human beings:

102. Humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads. We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change: steam engines, railways, the telegraph, electricity, automobiles, airplanes, chemical industries, modern medicine, information technology and, more recently, the digital revolution, robotics, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for “science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity”.[John Paul II, Address to Scientists and Representatives of the United Nations University, Hiroshima (25 February 1981), 3: AAS 73 (1981), 422]

Pope Benedict XVI lauded human ability to adjust our environment, and identified it as a “tension.” In some contexts, perhaps. But it is also a part of a human will to survive and thrive.

The modification of nature for useful purposes has distinguished the human family from the beginning; technology itself “expresses the inner tension that impels (people) gradually to overcome material limitations”.[Caritas in Veritate 69]

Pope Francis adds his praise to human achievement:

Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings. How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications? How could we not acknowledge the work of many scientists and engineers who have provided alternatives to make development sustainable?

The previous three popes have weighed in for us in this section. Science and technology give us a vector that is at the same time creative, a mixed blessing of tension, and a means of achieving undoubted good. Where do we go from here?

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For Some

One of the antipope blogs is bothered about the variety of Eucharistic Prayer translations. Pope Benedict XVI supposedly settled it:

The original words of consecration by Benedict XVI., the faithfully arranged transmission of the words of consecration in the vernacular languages, ​​is based directly on the official Latin formula.

Wait, what? Pope Benedict’s words? Admittedly, I don’t have a high opinion of some of the previous pope’s liturgical tinkering. “For many” struck me as vaguely Calvinist. At the Last Supper, Jesus clearly came to save “all,” at least all those willing to follow.

Granted, we are not talking about historical reconstructions of the cenacle, but the exaggerated emphasis on “for many” seemed like a *wink-wink* Jesus-didn’t-save-all-of-you-pretenders moment.

I’ve also seen a few blogosphere comments the past few days about the Jesus-content of Pope Francis’s words–the encyclical and all that. Not a single mention of Jesus at the Eponymous Flower posting. Which is curious, given that the words were his, not a modern pope’s. And they most certainly weren’t a Latin formula.

(Pope Francis) doesn’t exactly reverse the efforts of his predecessor, Benedict XVI. for a liturgical renewal, but freezes halfway.

A reversal would give it too much attention. I’m in favor of ars celebrandi, putting the onus on local quality rather than a futile top-down attempt to impose a comfy uniformity.

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Sunday Pope Preach

Michael Peppard is convinced that Pope Francis is going to go James 5 on Americans this Sunday. Me? I’m not so sure. There’s a front porch message in the Gospel:

“Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name,
and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.”
Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him.
There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name
who can at the same time speak ill of me.
For whoever is not against us is for us.”

The Holy Father promised to ponder a theology of the middle class, and it seems that those caught in the middle between the margins of the Church and those attempting to provide a pastoral encuentro perhaps need the reminder to contemplate their own woodwork.

Seriously, I am looking forward to what Pope Francis has to say to the majority of Americans in the middle.

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Laudato Si 101: The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis

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

Chapter three addresses “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis” and covers numbered sections 101 through 136–about five weeks of blogging.

101. It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this? At this stage, I propose that we focus on the dominant technocratic paradigm and the place of human beings and of human action in the world.

In those five weeks, we can consider if Pope Francis has properly diagnosed the world situation. Themes to be covered include technology, globalization, and a human-centered ethic. These are not separate concerns; they often overlap.

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Celebrity or Popularity, Front Porch Perspective

Matthew Schmitz on papal celebrity here. I am sure Mr Schmitz is partly right, partly wrong about his six talking points.

1. Personalities tend to be more popular than institutions.

I think the First Things commentator has indulged a bit of bait-and-switch. I thought we were talking about celebrity. Not every celebrity is popular. I find that people tend to lay down their lives (literally and long-term) for people they love, or for institutions (for the lack of a better word) such as the Church, the poor, their employer. And that laying down is distinct from laboring sixty, eighty hours a week out of a sense of compliance or obligation or just-need-the-money.

2. Francis’s appeal is based largely on his anti-institutional image.

Not quite. I think Mr Schmitz’s ideological allies are anti-anti-institutional. As a parish liturgist, I’m not looking to throw out the book on rubrics, or have someone do it for me. I’m just looking for less interference so I can work with people less encumbered by silliness. Let’s face two things: Pope Francis has been part of an institution since he joined the Society of Jesus, and Eddie Haskell is an arrogant so-and-so even when he has the institutional stamp of approval. Pope Francis makes no room for Eddie.

3. Celebrity is fleeting.

Ah! So we were talking about celebrity.

4. The media love affair with Francis, just like that with John Paul II, will come to an end.

It seems like the people who criticize the media the most are the ones most concerned about what the media says.

5. It will end in part because he is Catholic and in part because Francis has a penchant for upsetting particular groups—not just conservatives but transgender people, Chileans, etc.

Still steamed about that fatted calf meal, eh?

5 (sic). When it does, the people most attached to Catholic doctrines and institutions will be the ones most attached to the man

If so, Pope Francis would probably point to Jesus and say, “Attach to him, not me.”

I think there are a lot of people who don’t get Pope Francis. Some of them used to be on the inside looking out on the barbarians, as they saw it. That is no longer the case.

For many of my sister and brother Catholics, Pope Francis is suggesting we are all human, we are all sinners, and no close identification with doctrines and institutions can merit some special quality of “orthodoxy” or “faithfulness.” It simply doesn’t work that way. No matter how much we try. Should be an interesting few days, eh?

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Future Forms For Penance

confessionMy disappointment with the Rite of Penance is not entirely based on the early plug pulled on form III back in the early 80’s. But I am convinced it was imprudent of St John Paul. I’m also under no delusion that a public process with bishops like we had in the early centuries is the best we can do.

But it has occurred to me that the liturgical celebration of Penance (and/or reconciliation) is rather incomplete. Possibly backward in the sense of lacking refinement or development. And far too smelly of lawfulness rather than inviting of a humble spirituality.

One additional form might be the reconciliation of a bishop with his diocese in the case of scandal. Or at the very least, the reconciliation with people who believe their diocese has abandoned them morally or spiritually. In the realm of liturgy, I think we already see this in the various prayer services conducted in dioceses particularly damaged by clergy sexual misconduct and administrative mismanagement. Would calling it a form of a sacrament help? I can’t fathom how it would hurt.

As a parish staff member for nearly three decades I have also seen friendships tear to the breaking point. Sometimes it affects the parish at large in a significant way. I was privileged to witness a priest friend of mine devise a simple prayer of reconciliation for two parishioners who were finding it difficult to get along. Form I strikes me as a solitary exercise in an occasional situation in which some sort of mutual support may be helpful. Sins like gossip or public feuding could be handled in this way.

Perhaps the most serious need I see is a form of reconciliation for married couples who have encountered serious obstacles, but who have yet to take the step to separate or divorce–though the thought might be in the air.

What readings might be selected for reconciliation of a married couple? What Psalms? Acclamations from Scripture? And how would such a form of the rite be celebrated? Would it include witnesses of the marriage and family members? Could it be done privately with a priest to facilitate or witness and just the wife and husband?

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Reconciliation Lectionary: Ezekiel 18:20-32: Not Fair

mary-the-penitent.jpgIn the previous post on this passage, we looked at verses 20 through 24. Ezekiel laid the groundwork for the more well-known portion of this passage, emphasizing what a believer does in her or his final reckoning of life. That is what is important to God, not how a majority of a life was spent. Not how the parents lived and sinned. Sound unfair that lifelong criminals get a reprieve? You are not alone.

You say, “The LORD’s way is not fair!”
Hear now, house of Israel:
Is it my way that is unfair?
Are not your ways unfair?
When the just turn away from justice to do evil and die,
on account of the evil they did they must die.
But if the wicked turn from the wickedness
they did and do what is right and just,
they save their lives;
since they turned away from all the sins they committed,
they shall live;
they shall not die.
But the house of Israel says,
“The Lord’s way is not fair!”
Is it my way that is not fair, house of Israel?
Is it not your ways that are not fair?
Therefore I will judge you, house of Israel,
all of you according to your ways,
says the Lord GOD.
Turn, turn back from all your crimes,
that they may not be a cause of sin for you ever again.
Cast away from you
all the crimes you have committed,
and make for yourselves
a new heart and a new spirit.
Why should you die, house of Israel?
For I find no pleasure
in the death of anyone who dies,
says the Lord GOD.
Turn back and live!

The hang-up for Ezekiel’s listeners was two-fold. First, that children are not condemned for the sins of their ancestors. Most all of us get that. Harder to perceive is that forgiven sin does not accumulate as debt. Maybe if we thought about that a bit more, we might see that as a good deal.

The entire thirteen verses may be too long for Penance form I. May be. These last verses, 25-32 seem sufficient for a good reflection in a communal liturgy. “New heart and a new spirit certainly resonate with Lent and the Easter Vigil.

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