Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Blessed are the atheists for they shall find God

By Maria López Vigil (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
February 8, 2016

The dogmas of Catholicism, the religion into which I was born, no longer speak to me. The traditions and beliefs of Christianity such as I learned them seem more and more foreign. They are answers. And before the mystery of the world I have more and more questions.

I find sentiments similar to mine in many other people, especially young people, especially women, who don't deny God but who are looking for a spirituality that really feeds the meaning of their lives. And in search of that treasure -- where to place their hearts -- they distance themselves, move away from, review and even reject the learned religion.

What is happening to us? What has happened to me? It's that I've grown, I've read, I've searched. It's that we live in a radically different world from the tribal, rural, pre-modern world in which the rites, dogmas, beliefs, hierarchies, and traditions of my religion were forged. The religious system they taught us speaks of an antiquated concept of the world. We can no longer walk in those "shoes"; they are of no use to me anymore.

Knowing as I do that Christianity in all its versions (Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Orthodox...) is a powerful religion but only one among many that exist and have existed on the planet and in history, I can no longer believe that mine is the true religion. It would be as hugely foolish as thinking that my mother tongue, Spanish, is the best among all the languages just because I was born in it, it's what I know and what I speak.

I find the religious assumptions I learned arrogant. Because they are presented as absolute, rigid, infallible, unquestionable, unchangeable, and impenetrable as time goes by. And humility, which has the same root as humanity -- humus, seems to me an essential little way before the mystery of the world that neither science nor any religion has fully managed to fathom.

Knowing as I do the riches contained in the myriad human cultures, the many worlds there are in this world, I can't believe that "THE" revelation of this Ultimate Reality that is God, is in my religion and in the Bible. If I were to believe so, I could not avoid being arrogant. And I wouldn't be able to dialogue as an equal with thousands upon thousands of men and women who don't believe that, who have other sacred books, who go to God by other ways where there are no holy scriptures to venerate and follow.

How to believe in that dogmatic gibberish, amalgamated with a passé philosophy, which states that there are three different persons with a single nature within God and that Jesus is the second person of the three, but with two natures? How to believe what is absurd and what I don't understand if my brain is a masterpiece of Life? How to believe that Mary of Nazareth is the Mother of God if God is Mother? How to believe in the virginity of Mary without adopting what that dogma expresses about rejection of sexuality and women's sexuality? How to accept such a masculinized religion and, therefore, one so separate from that first intuition that sensed God in the feminine on seeing the power of women's bodies that gave life? How do we forget that, through that life experience, God "was born a woman" in the mind of humanity?

How to believe in hell without making God a torturing tyrant like the Pinochets or Somozas? How to believe in original sin that nobody ever committed anywhere, which is only the myth that the Hebrew people used to explain the origin of evil in the world? How to believe that Jesus saved us from that sin if that doctrine is not of Jesus of Nazareth but of Paul of Tarsus? How to believe that God needed Jesus' death to wash away that sin? Jesus the prophet, a propitiatory lamb who appeases divine wrath with his blood? How to believe that Jesus saved us by dying, when what can "save" us from meaninglessness is that he taught us to live? How to believe that I am eating Jesus' body and drinking his blood, thus reducing the Eucharist to a materialist, magical rite evocative of the archaic bloody sacrifices that Jesus rejected?

However, leaving now along my path so many beliefs of the religion I learned, I don't leave Jesus of Nazareth. Because, just as my father, my mother and my sisters and brothers are my emotional references, and just as I think, speak and write in Spanish and that language is my cultural reference, Jesus is my religious and spiritual reference, my ethical reference, the one with whom I am most familiar to test the path that opens me to the mystery of the world.

Today, knowing as I do the boundless majesty of the Universe in which we live, with its billions of galaxies, I can't believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the only and final incarnation of that First Energy that is God. Jesus didn't believe that. That dogmatic elaboration, made later in the context of power struggles, would have scandalized Jesus. Today, rather than stating that "I believe Jesus is God," I prefer to tell myself and say, "I want to believe in God as Jesus believed."

And in what God did Jesus, the Brown Man from Nazareth, believe? He taught us that God is a father, also a mother, who is concerned about seeking for us, the shepherd who looks for his sheep, the woman who looks for her drachma, who waits anxiously for us, who always welcomes us, who gets outraged at injustice and at power that exploits and oppresses, who takes the side of the lowly, who doesn't want poor or rich people, who wants no one to have a surplus and none to be in need, who supports the equality and dignity of all, who wants us to be brothers and sisters, who wants us in community, who doesn't want masters or man servants, or women servants either, who always gives us chances, who laughs and celebrates, who throws banquets to which he invites everyone, who is joyful and good, who is an abba, an amma.

All the religions of the world, all of them, are alike in one thing: they all state that they are the true one and boast that their gods are the most powerful. All sustain themselves through beliefs, rites, commandments and mediators. Most of the commandments they impose are prohibitions: what can not be done, what can not be thought, what can not be said ... And the mediators dominating the religions are very varied -- they are holy books, places, times and objects and, above all, they are holy people whom one must believe, obey and reverence.

When one reads the good news of the Gospels, when one grasps their essence, one discovers that Jesus wasn't a religious man. Jesus was a layman in permanent opposition to the pious and holy men of his time, the Pharisees and priests. Jesus didn't propose beliefs but attitudes. We never see him practicing any rite but rather approaching the people. He turned various commandments around, as they were interpreted by the pious of his time. And he respected neither the holy places (he prayed on the mountain) nor the holy times ("The Sabbath is for the people, not the people for the Sabbath").

Jesus was a spiritual man and an ethical teacher. He didn't want to found any religion and, therefore, he isn't responsible for any of the dogmas built from power upon the passionate memory of those who knew him. Jesus proposed an ethic of human relations. He inspired a spiritual and social movement of men and women who, in seeking God, would seek justice and build his dream, the Reign of God, that he conceived as a utopia opposed to the reality of oppression and injustice that he had to experience in his country and time.

When nobody is holy, everyone becomes holy. When no object is sacred, all objects deserve to be cared for. When no time is sacred, all the days that are given to me to live become sacred. When no place is holy, I see in all of Nature God's holy temple. Jesus also taught us that.

The irreverence, provocativeness, grace, humor, boldness and novelty of the spirituality of Jesus of Nazareth have been imprisoned for centuries in Christological dogma. That dogma makes us prisoners of single-mindedness; it shuts us in a cage. It doesn't let us fly because it doesn't let us ask questions, suspect, doubt...The bars of that prison provoke fear. Fear of disobeying the authoritative word of those who "know God," the hierarchies of religion. Fear of being punished for thinking and for saying what we think.

Today, knowing that I live "circling one star in the bunch, in a common area of an ordinary galaxy, grouped with other equally bland ones in an ordinary cluster," as a prestigious physicist describes this "cosmic neighborhood" that is Earth, I can't stop feeling that the certainties and rules of religion organized by a hierarchical bureaucracy that moreover has betrayed Jesus' message in so many things, are petulant and sclerotic, irrelevant for my life.

I find myself closer to the Life that Jesus advocated and dignified in that religiousness, in that spirituality that is reverence and awe before the mystery of the world. I find more spiritual meaning in the "cosmic religiousness" that Einstein the Jew was talking about when he said that "the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious."

Einstein recognizes that this experience of the mysterious "cradle of art and science has also generated religion." But he adds, "True religiousness is knowing of that Existence that is impenetrable for us, to know that there are manifestations of the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty" that are never totally accessible to us. He concludes, "The mystery of the eternity of life is enough for me, with the feeling and awareness of the prodigious construction of what exists."

I don't know if this formulation is enough for me, but I know it's significant to me because it opens me up to new questions. And religion, the religious system in which I was educated, didn't open me. It closed me by filling me with fixed, pre-established answers, many of them threatening, anguishing, engendering fear, guilt and unhappiness. It's time to humanize ourselves. And the religious system, forcing us to think about God in one single manner, imposing strict moral rules lacking in compassion on us, and forcing us into routine rigid worship and rituals, dehumanizes us.

Do I believe in God? What is faith? "He is love," an illiterate peasant in the Dominican Republic answered many years ago when I asked him. I've never forgotten it. I felt it was an explanation as simple as it was profound. If God exists, He is the one who always moves me towards love, towards others, be they persons, animals, trees...This movement, this impulse is to share, to empathize, to care for, to take responsibility, to put myself in the water kept at the bottom of this well of all that is living. Friendship is the joy of never being able to touch the bottom of that well. That is love: a bottomless well from which we can drink. That must be God. In the love I have for those I love I feel God.

If God exists, he is beauty. The extravagance of nature's beauty, the stars of the sky, dogs' eyes, the shape of leaves, the flight of birds, colors and their nuances, the sea, all this immeasurable and surprising list of beauties, all alike, all different, all related, this beauty that I can neither encompass nor understand, that dazzles my eyes and my mind, that science reveals and explains to us, I feel has God's "signature". At the bottom of all the beauty that I see in all that exists, I feel God.

If God exists, He is joy. At the fiesta, in music and dancing, in the indefinable forms that joy takes when it is deep, in words, in company, in celebration, in achievements, in creative effort, and especially in the laughter and smiles of the people, I feel that God is closer than ever.

If God exists, He is also justice. He is the justice that the history I know and in which I live, has never guaranteed to good people. That it didn't guarantee to that poor illiterate peasant who defined faith as "love" to me. But God is always beyond all love, all beauty, all joy, always unreachable, unnameable, unfathomable, always beyond my idea of God, beyond my own desire and nostalgia.

Maimonides, the great Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, wrote a theological-philosophical treatise with this intriguing title: "Guide for the Perplexed." He says, "Describing God through negatives is the only way to describe Him in appropriate language."

I don't find one shred of this perplexity in the religious system in which I was born. And it is with these "bricks" of thought and feeling, with this thinking and feeling, with which I've been tentatively building a spirituality, convinced, as the poet Leon Felipe used to say, that no one goes to God by the same path I do. Spirituality is a personal journey; religion is a collective corset. A "heavy yoke," in Jesus' words.

In his book The Wave is the Sea, the Benedictine monk Willigis Jäger comments, "A wise person said, 'Religion is a trick of the genes.'" Jäger takes this statement very seriously. And he explains, "When the human species reached the adequate evolutionary level to ask questions about its origin, its future and the meaning of its existence, it developed the ability to respond to those questions. The result of this process is religion, which for millennia has magnificently carried out its task and still does so today. Religion is part of human evolution. And if today we are reaching a point where its answers no longer satisfy us, it is an indication that evolution has taken a step forward and a new ability to understand ourselves as human beings is emerging in humankind."

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Women's Ordinations - January 2016

The first three women's ordinations of the new year took place on January 30th at the United Church of Christ Chapel in Altamonte Springs, Florida. The celebrant was Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan. Ordained to the ARCWP priesthood were:

  • Lorraine Sharpe Meyer of Casselberry, FL who has worked as a nurse and a chaplain and has specialized in care for people with Hansen's Disease, AIDS and dementia. She has also worked with the homeless in many areas of the U.S. and Thailand. She is the author of Dirty Feet: Stories of Really Terrific People, a memoir of some of her service experiences. She decided to become a priest because "as a lifelong Catholic, I so often witnessed male priests who, due to lack of proper training, were unable to comfort people requesting sacraments. Then, as a chaplain to people with dementia, I found that I was able to be a 'real priest' for them. When I discovered the Women Priest movement, I knew immediately that I belong to it."

  • Major Renee Dubignon of Holiday, FL, who served in the US Army from 1980 to 2005 and worked concurrently for the New York City Police Department from 1982-2003 as a behavior modification consultant. Since her retirement to Florida, she has been a marketing executive with the TraVerus Travel Network through her own company, Major Adventure Marketing Group. She has an MSW from City University of New York-Hunter College and in 2009-2010 studied theology at the Episcopal Divinity School. Of her calling to ministry, she says, "My deep faith in God's love guided me in the pastoral care of those in need of liberation from the negative effects of crime and evil. I have a calming spirit that aids me in helping others heal. God uses me as a vessel to heal physical and psychological problems." According to Bishop Meehan, Renee Ronnie Dubignon now ministers at the Spirit of Life Metropolitan Community Church in New Port Richey, Florida, where church members have a long history of serving the LGBTQI community.

Both of these women had been ordained as ARCWP deacons in May 2015. Also ordained to the ARCWP priesthood was Joan Throm who had previously been an assistant pastor at the interdenominational Family of God Community Church in Cocoa Beach, Florida. She has also worked as a recreational therapist and is now working on a degree in art therapy. According to Bishop Meehan, Rev. Throm is currently a grief support minister at Courtenay Springs Village, a long term care facility in Merritt Island, Florida. She also leads an ecumenical service every Sunday morning there.

In her homily at the ordination, Bishop Meehan said she believes that "nothing will stop our movement for the full equality of women in the Roman Catholic Church because nothing is impossible with God." She added her wish that the newly ordained women "be mystics, prophets and presiders at sacramental liturgical celebrations that create a more compassionate and just church" and that "they be midwives of grace bringing new life to our church in Florida and beyond."

Gustavo Gutiérrez assesses the current state of liberation theology and Francis' papacy

by Cristina Fontenele (English translation by Rebel Girl)
February 5, 2016

Considered the father of liberation theology, Gustavo Gutierrez is still admired by generations of theologians. The Dominican priest with a simple and straightforward style gave an exclusive interview to Adital to discuss the current state of liberation theology, who the poor in Latin America are, and how he assesses the political context on the continent. On his meeting with Pope Francis during the Caritas Assembly in 2015, the theologian says he recognizes in the pontiff a brave man who is leading the Church at a time of Kairos which in Greek means a right and opportune moment.

On the power of youth, Gutierrez jokes that being young is not enough to promote change, as a free being can follow various paths. Encouraged, the priest explains to Adital the importance of humor, which can also be a form of communication, as well as helping human beings to age.

Adital: How do you assess the current state of liberation theology? What are its prospects and how do you renew the leaders?

Gustavo Gutierrez: I know it's understood but I would rather be explicit. My first concern as a Christian, a priest, is to do theologies, and this is not the Gospel. Theology is a second act, which reflects precisely on the life of Christians in light of the Gospel message. My biggest concern is this. I have been, throughout life, a pastor, a counselor of movements, and, of course, I liked theology very much, and did theology. I think it's important to be very close to pastoral work. In the case of my country, the pastoral world is very circumscribed. I never taught in a school of theology but now, at 70-odd years, I have begun to teach in a school. A little late. Before, I was developing pastoral work, reflections, I wrote too. I love theology and see it as an understanding of hope. For me, it is a hermeneutics of hope and still is. That means the question of the signs of the times, because every theologian needs to see what times they are living in. Of course, the foundation, the root, is the Christian message, but how to live it out today depends on the conditions.

On the renewal of the leaders, one is not going to find a million people working in theology -- for many reasons -- but neither is it necessary. Deep down, a Christian is always a theologian, because they are thinking about their faith. When I, as a Christian, "think that...", actually I'm already doing theology. This is the theology we're talking about, with the knowledge of the sources, sometimes debated, as in any discipline today.

Adital: Why talk about Vatican II after 50 years?

Gutierrez: Because it's its anniversary, just like when someone has a birthday. It's the same. The 50th anniversary of Vatican II is always impressive and moreover, its message is still current.

Adital: What is practicing the see-judge-act method?

Gutierrez: It's being attentive to history. To see means seeing reality so as not to speculate -- "this would be good ..." -- it's associated with the term "sign of the times." It's necessary to discern the facts, the causes, and why the effects occur, then comes the time to judge. And then the last thing is, basically, the reason for seeing and judging, which is to act. It's not that one should write a book about the problems, but the fact of how I get involved in the face of that. It's something very simple that was born in the 1920's as a method in Belgium and France. It began with the Belgian priest [Joseph] Cardijn, who years later became a cardinal. Judging is interpreting the facts based on the demands of the Gospel. Acting has a more modest tone. It would be the "what can we do?". Some people can do this, while others can do something else. At the same time, there are people who can do something else but not this, people who don't have the ability for this -- or the time, or age or profession. There are a variety of actions. This is reality. The Latin American Bishops' Conferences -- Medellín, Puebla, Santo Domingo, Aparecida -- used the see-judge-act method. It's a methodology.

Adital: You already said that being young isn't enough. What does that mean?

Gutiérrez: I'm convinced of this and I say it rationally. It's true that the power of youth, health, knowledge, changed very important things, but, deep down, they are free people. They can work very badly and they can use their knowledge in another way. That also happens. For example, not all those who are studying medicine will be doctors who are understanding towards the patient. Today, they are almost nonexistent. In the United States, for example, there are impressively impersonal doctors but they know a lot. Classical medicine was much more about personal contact. Dialogue with the patient is very important, taking medicine as an example. So I think this is what happens. Regarding theology, there are many young Latin Americans, if not all, but it's not a profession from which one can live. We, since we are priests, don't have a professional salary that's enough to survive on. So those people who can study something else, who can be a professional with an economic way in, they are sacrificing themselves. Finally, all young people, all people, can start well and not end up well.

Adital: You've already commented on the power of the poor. Who are the poor today, mainly in Latin America?

Gutierrez: I said that based on the scriptures and not social sciences or economics. The poor are those who don't count, who are insignificant, and they are very numerous. There is poverty that is called monetary or economic, and it needs to be studied. The condition of women for example. It's not that every woman is poor, but it suffices to be a woman for there to be rights that aren't present. So it is with the color of one's skin, indigenous people, mestizos (I am mestizo), Japanese, Chinese, some Europeans in the Pacific (much immigration came through there). See, knowledge is power.

Adital: How do you assess Francis' papacy and how was your meeting during the Assembly of Caritas in 2015?

Gutierrez: I think that the Church is in a very interesting movement, rich and with a great freshness of the Gospel. These issues of the Pope -- of "going out", going against corruption, of being open -- it's a time of joy, and he is very brave, because that's not easy. Of course, the people who are with him are also resistant. Pope Francis has created a very different climate, which also has huge support from people who aren't Christians and who see in this man someone speaking to Abraham, who is our neighbor, and has a deeply evangelical sense. That's what I talked about when I met him.

Adital: What reforms do you think are most urgent in the Church?

Gutierrez: The [Pope] has taken up something very strong from John XXIII, which is the poor, and this is an emergency. Really, the number of people in migration, for example, is a scandal. We are in an age with so many resources and those people need to leave their countries running, or else they get killed. This is super urgent. At the same time, there are also, of course, Church issues that were discussed during the Synod of the Family -- the massive rejection of corruption, not wanting corrupt money. Much can be said that is reform -- in part more institutional -- it's also necessary to change the rules of behavior of officials. The climate we are experiencing is something like returning to the beginning. Speaking theologically and biblically, it's also what we call Kairos, a word that means opportune moment. That's the present moment.

Adital: So is it a time of interfaith dialogue? How is it possible in the face of so many conflicts in the world about religion?

Gutierrez: The dialogue has already begun earlier. The conflicts declined sharply relative to the last century when there were wars. Now, there are other wars, such as what is happening with the Muslims. I know there is still much to do, although they've already changed what existed as very violent in the past. There is, for example, fundamentalism, people who believe that this is the way it is and that it's like that for everyone. It's necessary to respect cultural diversity, the stories every people has as human beings, their little stories, they are accustomed to them. Sometimes, there are things that aren't good in any culture so it's necessary to enter into a dialogue to better understand it. Interfaith dialogue is very important, but it's necessary to establish justice, because without it there is no peace. And justice is recognizing the rights of all, and it is precisely what the poor are lacking. I remember a phrase of Hannah Arendt, a German Jewish philosopher, who said that "to be poor is to have no rights, to not have the right to have rights." This must end. It isn't possible for there to be human beings without rights that are respected. This is the law of life, the law of liberty.

Adital: How do you assess the climate in Latin America, what has happened in recent elections, such as in Argentina, Guatemala and Haiti?

Gutierrez: There's a great variety, but one general thing that can be said is that there are elections. I say this because we had, in Latin America, countries with dictatorships. In Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, that is, there was a big change. Now it's true that it wasn't enough. It's not enough to have elections to say we're fine. We're in the most unequal continent, economically speaking, and it's necessary to combat this. The rich are getting more and more powerful and the poor are getting poorer and poorer. I read a quote from a great economist and philosopher who says, "the world is spectacularly rich and desperately poor" -- that man is remarkable. This shouldn't be happening but it is in Latin America and there still isn't work to be able to change it.

Adital: But you already mentioned that Latin America is the continent of hope ...

Gutierrez: It's a funny thing. But of course hope will always exist too. These are phrases that encourage people. Hope is absent and present everywhere. In Africa, in Asia. And since we are talking about people, there is a phrase that says that "the last thing you lose is hope," but the phrase doesn't say "in Latin America, the last thing you lose is hope," therefore it's valid for every human being. Because of there having been significant changes, it's necessary to value, in Latin America, this step, politically speaking, of having come out of dictatorships towards democracy.

Adital: What is spirituality to you and how does one live it out today?

Gutierrez: Spirituality covers many realities. It's putting on one's slippers and walking through many places that are not level -- which is crazy, but it's fundamental. Jesus' basic message is loving people and the primacy of the poorest. There's an eternal question that families are asked: "Mother, do you love my brother more than me?". The eternal answer is "I love everyone equally." But if the mother doesn't protect the children, everyone gets sick. So why the poor first? Because they are weaker. It's such a simple thing and people don't understand it. They say, "No, God doesn't speak only for the poor ..." God loves all people, but, at the same time, the weak first.

Adital: About Monseñor [Oscar] Romero [former archbishop of San Salvador], what is the meaning of his beatification?

Gutiérrez: I'll begin at the end. I think the story of his beatification and canonization is very important and rich for Latin America for one simple reason -- because at first they didn't understand what was essential. He died, of course he had a great impact, but in El Salvador, many baptized, Catholic people complained that he was a Communist. So this recognition will give value to many testimonies of the same style in a number of places in Latin America. In Argentina, before Romero, they killed Monseñor [Enrique] Angelelli; after Romero there was [Juan] Gerardi in Guatemala, and a number of laypeople and religious. It will give value in that acknowledging that Romero was killed by Christians for defending the poor, will be interesting for the Latin American Church.

Adital: You've talked a lot about humor. What is its role in life?

Gutiérrez: It's not taking it very seriously and not thinking one is all that and a bag of chips, as they say. It's not mockery, nor does it mean that one isn't suffering. In the world, there are many people suffering, but it's not indifference or superficiality either. I think it's not necessary to lose one's humor. I joke a bit, saying that there's a sacrament to recover grace but no sacrament to recover one's humor. I think that humor is nourishing and can be a psychological thing too. People who are repressed don't act. Even in a difficult situation, a person can keep a distance and have humor. Humor is also a way to communicate something. I joke a lot because it's my way of being, but it doesn't mean that all is well, that I have no concerns or that poverty, to me, is not a scandal with so many people suffering. No. I worked my whole life with poor people, as a pastor, always on the periphery, and it's quite painful, but I can't cry every day and the people can't either. What I want is for them to get out of that situation. There is also an obsession with money and that preoccupation, in many people, surpasses closeness with others. I think that humor also helps us to age.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Acknowledging sin

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
February 7, 2016

Luke 5:1-11

The story of the "miraculous catch of fish" in the Sea of Galilee was very popular among the early Christians. Several evangelists record the episode, but only Luke ends the narrative with a moving scene that stars Simon Peter, a believing disciple and a sinner at the same time.

Peter is a man of faith, seduced by Jesus. His words have more power for him than his own experience. Peter knows that nobody goes fishing at noon in the lake, especially when you haven't caught anything at night. But Jesus told him to and Peter trusts him completely: "Based on your word, I will throw in the nets."

Peter is also a man of sincere heart. Surprised by the huge catch he got, "he throws himself at Jesus' feet" and with admirable spontaneity says, "Depart from me, for I am a sinner." Peter acknowledges his sin before all and his absolute unworthiness to live closely with Jesus.

Jesus isn't afraid to have a sinful disciple with him. On the contrary, if he feels like a sinner, Peter will be better able to understand his message of forgiveness for all and his acceptance of sinners and the undesirable. "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be a fisher of men." Jesus takes away his fear of being a sinful disciple and associates him with his mission to gather and call men and women of every condition to come into God's saving plan.

Why is the Church so resistant to acknowledge its sins and confess its need for conversion? The Church is of Jesus but it isn't Jesus. Nobody can be astonished that there is sin in it. The Church is "holy" because it is animated by the Holy Spirit of Jesus but it's "sinful" because it often resists that Spirit and departs from the gospel. Sin is in the believers and in the institutions, in the hierarchy and in the people of God, in the pastors and in the Christian communities. We all need conversion.

Habituating ourselves to hiding the truth is very serious because it prevents us from engaging in a dynamic of conversion and renewal. On the other hand, isn't a fragile and vulnerable Church that has the courage to acknowledge its sin more gospel-centered than an institution engaged in vain in hiding its miseries from the world? Aren't our communities more credible when they collaborate with Christ in the work of evangelization, humbly acknowledging their sins and committing to an increasingly gospel-centered life? Don't we have a lot to learn today too from the great apostle Peter acknowledging his sin at the feet of Jesus?

Jorge Costadoat, SJ: "The Pope will have to say something about the homosexuality issue"

by Jorge Costadoat, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
February 1, 2016

The homosexuality issue is new in Latin America. It's about one decade old, two at the most. But the reality is ancient, maybe as much, maybe not, as its censure. Religious censure has been cruel with respect to it. So Pope Francis' mere phrase, "Who am I to judge gays?", has been liberating.

Certainly, raising the subject has been uncomfortable for the older generation in some countries. In other parts of the world there is concern too. In some Protestant churches, it has been accepted that ministers of religion have a gay partner. But in others, there have been furious reactions to this, and against the possibility of legalizing homosexual unions and marriages.

In the Catholic camp, the same tensions are being experienced. Churches in the developed countries expected that some type of recognition would be given to homosexual couples at the Synod on the Family. But the churches of Africa, it is said, would not hear of it. The final text appears to reflect the latter position. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, meanwhile, slams the brakes on this possibility. It doesn't view homosexuality as a perversion, but treats it as an "objectively disordered" inclination (Catechism, 2357). Homosexual people should live out their condition with religious resignation.

However, the openness-oriented Catholics believe they see something like a crack in the wall in the Synod document. The Synod calls for respect for the dignity of homosexual persons. But, moreover, it demands that "specific attention [be] given to guiding families with homosexual members." (76). Who? Homosexual sons and daughters? We think so, obviously. It isn't obvious, however, but neither does the text exclude it, that the indication would apply to potential gay parents.

Was this careless or deliberately ambiguous wording? Advanced moralists also note that the Synod didn't explicitely condemn "homosexual acts", as the Catechism does strongly. Finally, the Pope will have to say something about this issue, the most important one for the Church in the USA and for many European ones. During 2016, an apostolic exhortation should come out in which Francis will give a final word of guidance on these matters of family, marriage and sexual morality.

We have before our eyes a rare situation. Here is a question that was closed to discussion, that the Pope then opened, but that Francis himself will have to close shortly. The Church, enlightened by its faith, has the duty ahead of thinking about a human reality that, having been cruelly buried for generations, has emerged in our time with a struggle to open a space within a culture that has opposed it, as a demand for love and justice that deserves to be known thoroughly and allowed to open our hearts, change our attitudes, and refine our criteria to make this demand our own demand.

I'm allowing myself a theological reflection here, because we have to dismantle old unjust mistreatment that has a religious aspect. Theology, concerning the issue of homosexuality, has to offer arguments to update in the most humanizing way possible, the revelation of God that happened in Christ, the paradigm of Christian humanity (Gaudium et Spes 22). What does theology say about homosexual people themselves, independent of their acts? What are they? Did God conceive of them that way?

It becomes necessary, therefore, to relate the Magisterial arguments on revelation which have been developed over two thousand years, to contemporary scientific arguments, since in both types of argument, there are reasons and convictions that, to the extent they're correct, the Church should consider as coming from God Himself. The Church, because of believing in the Creator of humankind, is obliged to make science and the ethical convictions of the culture in which it fulfills its mission, its own when it can be seen that these achievements are making human life happier. If God doesn't want anything but the triumph of humanity over itself, it would be absurd for the Church to oppose His will.

The fact is that science has given important fruits. Today we are told that homosexuality is not a perversion. No one chooses to be homosexual. One becomes one for biological reasons (genetic load) and/or biographical reasons (personal history). Homosexuality is a pre-moral reality. One is free as to the way of living out one's homosexuality, but not as to whether or not to be so. Another important scientific result is that, as the World Health Organization has maintained (1990), it's not a disease either, but a variant of human sexuality. For the time being, medical efforts to cure it have been disastrous.

Said in harsh terms: if homosexuals are innocent of their condition, this is a "sin" of God. Said in soft terms: God is responsible for human sexuality in all its versions, and if we have a hard time understanding how, we must strive again to enter into the mystery of God's love. Homosexuality is a work of God. It is not a human creation. Homosexual people are creatures of God, of His love, and therefore the only thing that could frustrate its existence is not loving their neighbor as God loves them. The homosexual person is a "gift" from God for themselves, but also a "gift" for others, since it is inherent to the gift to be given and not be selfishly withheld from others.

So we end up with two questions: What should a homosexual person do to love themselves as God loves them? This is a whole program of life. It is -- and equally importantly-- for heterosexual people too. Second question: How can a homosexual person be a gift for others? This is the more difficult point theologically. One homosexual friend asks me, "How could God give homosexuals the condition, but deny them its practice?". The question is difficult because the Church itself knows and teaches that the only thing that really ruins people is selfishness and indifference to the suffering of one's neighbor.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Vicenta Mamani: "Many Christian values were already present in indigenous culture"

by Luis Miguel Modino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
January 28, 2016

Woman, indigenous person, and theologian are categories that are apparently hard to combine. That is the case of Vicenta Mamani Bernabé, an Aymaran woman in the Methodist Church, trained in theology, who is currently rector of the Instituto Superior Ecuménico Indígena de Teología in La Paz (Bolivia).

In this interview, the Aymara theologian offers us a vision of the challenges she is facing in her daily work, the worldviews of the native Andean peoples and their relationship with Christianity, helping to understand their interrelationship and how they can mutually enrich one another.

What is the mission that the institute you direct is attempting to carry out?

It's a place where senior technical staff in Religious Studies and Theology are formed, so that men and women can serve in the churches, social organizations and in society itself.

At the Institute, a biblical pastoral program is underway that organizes groups of lay men and women in the local churches to train in areas of Bible, gender and other issues, as well as training of graduates in the issues of highlands and lowlands and the training of professionals who are working in institutions and NGOs. We offer public lectures, workshops and meetings on different topics. What cuts across the institution is the issue of gender, intercultural and interfaith dialogue, theology of creation, religious and theological decolonization, and ancestral spiritualities.

How do you combine being an indigenous woman and a theologian? Is it difficult to enter the world of theology as an indigenous woman?

The study of theology used to be reserved for males and now in the theological institutes and universities, we women are gradually going into this area of training, but it's not easy to study in a sexist, male-centered environment and, incidentally, studying theology isn't economically profitable. One studies it because of vocation, because of a commitment to serve in the Church, knowing that we women are the ones who mostly do the service work.

Not just studying how to fill places of responsibility. Is it difficult to fill the places that were always filled by men?

The institute where I work has already been in existence twenty years and in all that time, it has always been men who have led the institution. But now I'm in that position as rector and it's a great challenge to be able to bring this institution forward. And as a woman, I think I'm facing many internal problems but also with the confidence that it will succeed. I have support from my colleagues, the board, from many members and partners of the institution for it to go forward.

Between Latin American native peoples and Christianity and its traditions, what are the similarities and differences?

The Andean peoples, in this case the Aymara culture, we can say that we can't stop being Aymara to be Christian men and women. We have to remain Aymara men and women. Many values that we read in the Bible -- loving your neighbor, visiting the sick, being in solidarity with one's brothers and sisters -- all these values are present in the Aymara culture. Accompanying our brothers and sisters in their difficulties in the community, you have to laugh with those who laugh, you have to mourn with those who mourn, if a person is sick in the community, you have to go visit them, if someone is hungry you must also support them with food, if someone has no clothes, you have to detach yourself and give some to them, when there's community work to be done, you have to be like one man or one woman, if someone gets married, everyone must be there celebrating, and if someone dies, you must also participate to say goodbye to the person. So all these community human values are Gospel values to me. They complement each another. Gospel values strengthen the Aymara experience.

That relationship with the forces of nature which is so present in Andean traditions and spirituality, what does it mean for the Aymara?

For us this Pacha, the universe, nature, the Pacha Mama is our Great Home, it's the temple of God, and so the Pacha Mama is our mother who feeds us. Here we find the plants, water, animals. Everything in nature has life, has a spirit and, therefore, we live together as brothers and sisters of nature, if you like, as sons and daughters of nature. But we humans can't feel superior to nature, rather that we are a part of those beings that exist as subjects in nature. We relate to the goods of nature as subjects -- subject to subject -- we don't see the things of nature as objects.

Has Christianity managed to become inculturated in the Aymara tradition, in the tradition of the Andean peoples?

The Andean people have appropriated many Christian elements that support our life. The Bible, the Cross, prayers and other symbols and other values of the Gospel are already integrated into our lives. All that does not undermine our lives is appropriated.

How is the coexistence between the different Christian denominations and Aymara tradition?

Christian churches for the most part always preach a message that they are the bearers of truth and therefore they often divide the communities. In a community, there are the Methodists, the Assembly of God, the Catholic Church and other religious communities. Sometimes this doesn't convoke us to unity, but to division, and that's not right.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Don't we need prophets?

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
January 31, 2016

Luke 4:21-30

"A great prophet has emerged among us." So they cried out in the villages of Galilee, surprised by Jesus' words and actions. However, that's not what happens in Nazareth when he appears before his neighbors as one anointed as Prophet of the poor.

Jesus observes first their admiration and then their rejection. He isn't surprised. He reminds them of a known refrain: "I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place." Then when they drive him out of town and try to kill him, Jesus abandons them. The narrator says that "he passed through the midst of them and went away." Nazareth remained without the Prophet Jesus.

Jesus is and acts as a prophet. He isn't a temple priest or a teacher of the law. His life is framed in the prophetic tradition of Israel. Unlike the kings and priests, the prophet isn't appointed or anointed by anyone. His authority comes from God, busy encouraging and guiding His beloved people with His Spirit when the political and religious leaders don't. It is no coincidence that Christians confess God incarnate in a prophet.

The features of the prophet are unmistakable. In the midst of an unjust society where the powerful seek their abundance while silencing the suffering of those who weep, the prophet dares to interpret and to live reality from God's compassion for the last and least. His whole life becomes an "alternative presence" criticizing injustice and calling for conversion and change.

On the other hand, when religion itself accommodates an unjust order of things and its interests no longer correspond to God's, the prophet shakes indifference and self-deception, criticizes the illusion of eternity and absoluteness that threatens every religion and reminds everyone that God alone saves. His presence introduces new hope as it invites us to think about the future based on freedom and God's love.

A Church that ignores the prophetic dimension of Jesus and his followers runs the risk of remaining without prophets. The shortage of priests worries us a lot and we pray for vocations to priestly service. Why don't we pray for God to raise up prophets? Don't we need them? Don't we feel the need to stir up the prophetic spirit in our communities?

A Church without prophets, doesn't it run the risk of being deaf to God's calls to conversion and change? A Christianity without prophetic spirit, isn't it in danger of being controlled by order, tradition, and fear of the newness of God?