samedi, juillet 18, 2009

Love, Love, Love Revolution

My column from Lancaster -- taking a look at Benedict's latest (third) encyclical -- a challenge to those who seek to untie life ethics from social justice.

So, you say you want a revolution?
Reaction to the publication of Caritas in Veritate, the new encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI, was, predictably, both polarized and dramatic.
Although the 144-page document was deeply grounded in Roman Catholic theology, it was Benedict's call for a "true world political authority" and his critique of capitalism that got much attention in the media.
Conservative Catholic commentator George Weigel memorably said that "Love in Truth" resembled a "duck-billed platypus" (a strange amalgam of the true Benedict and liberal elements in the Vatican bureaucracy).
But as the National Catholic Reporter's John Allen pointed out, liberals were equally guilty of highlighting the parts that pleased them and ignoring the pontiff's consistent remarks about "life issues" like abortion and birth control.
As a Reuters Factbox shows, this encyclical, meant for a global audience, was indeed in a long tradition of papal teachings — in fact, it was in part a further explication of Pope Paul VI's Populorum Progressio, written more than 40 years ago.
But what would the papal teachings mean to American Christians in a country in which individualism is sometimes taken more seriously than godliness? Could Americans get their minds around the idea that a holistic concern for the dignity of the human person could involve both economic justice and concern for the vulnerable, like the elderly and the unborn?
As a religious journalist who spends a lot of time reading about our polarization on social and economic issues, I often wonder about our capacity to seek the "common good" and take a look at the larger picture.
So I decided to ask Monsignor Stuart Swetland of Maryland's Mount St. Mary's Seminary about the encyclical's moral and social roots.
"What some would call the 'social ethic' and the 'life ethic' (in Caritas in Veritate) flow from the same basic principle — the dignity of the human person," said Swetland, Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics. One example is the way the pope links protecting the environment to caring about human life and to human responsibility for stewardship of God's creation, Swetland said.
"It overcomes the left-right polemic so prevalent in America," he said. "It's a mistake to characterize the pope as right or left or center — this is the constant (moral and social) teaching of the church."
As well as offering the perspective that humans are made for more than just this life, the church articulates a "kingdom ethic" that shares the concerns of those in the secular world who wish to make the world a better place, he asserted.
"The message of Christ and his church is always countercultural," said the Rev. Peter Hahn, pastor of St. Leo the Great in Rohrerstown.
In the midst of the "individualist" ethic at the heart of the American experience, and the sin that makes us self-centered, said the priest, there is the "constant call of Christ and the church to serve each other."
One example? The "outsourcing" of American jobs, while difficult for Americans, presents opportunities for our brothers and sisters overseas, who also are children of God.
Hahn, who pastors a suburban church of approximately 1,800 families, said that he anticipated weaving the teachings of the encyclical into homilies, adult teachings, young adult ministries and opportunities for service.
Swetland, who is charged with teaching seminarians about the encyclical, confessed that "as I read it, I'm personally challenged as well. I recognize that I need to teach about all the aspects, not just the ones I like."
I know what he means, don't you?
Conservative or liberal, we all tend to "privilege" the portions of Scripture that suit our predilections — and either ignore or minimize some of the verses that make us a little uncomfortable.
As Benedict also points out, love not grounded in truth can become "nice feelings," added Swetland, while love untempered by charity (or caritas) can become legalism, he said.
Interestingly, the motto of Diocese of Harrisburg Bishop Kevin Rhoades is Veritatem in Caritate — truth in charity.
So is there anything new and revolutionary about Benedict's teaching?
No. It's the same old revolution.
It's been going for more than 2,000 years wherever there are women and men creating communities to help to build the Kingdom of God with prayer, witness, service and profoundly countercultural acts of love.
So ... you say you want a revolution?

vendredi, juillet 17, 2009

A ray of hope

It may be possible for dinosaurs like me to build a relationship with one of these bishops. Our diocese is in particularly bad shape, thanks to years of battling with our now deposed Bishop. So now there is probably good reason (outside of recent GC actions) to look outside of it for a father or mother in God. I wonder if my old clergy colleague, Bishop Wolf of Rhode Island signed the Anaheim declaration?

jeudi, juillet 16, 2009

America -- always rights

I haven't had much desire to post over the past few days. My church, the Episcopal Church has been racing towards the cliff of schism -- and now apparently has decided to jump. Over the past few days our bishops, clergy and lay leaders have voted, essentially, to put the church's good housekeeping seal of approval on ordaining practicing gay clergy, gay unions, and allowing for the consecration of more than one gay bishop.

To me, this really isn't about gay clergy or justice for gays. The church has been ordaining gay men, and, more recently women, for centuries. To be totally honest, I can't get that bent out of shape about gay clergy, particularly since I've known some wonderful gay priests.

And I don't believe that, as much as there are homophobes in the Episcopal Church, that a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops or blessing gay unions is all about homophobia.

But this is about something a lot more theological -- whether anyone has a "right" to be ordained. And I have to say that on this point, I'm with Bishop N. T. Wright when he says:
"The appeal to justice as a way of cutting the ethical knot in favour of including active homosexuals in Christian ministry simply begs the question. Nobody has a right to be ordained: it is always a gift of sheer and unmerited grace."

Nobody does -- men, women, gay or straight. But we here are all about "rights" -- the right to rid ourselves of unborn children. The right to own 25 guns. The right to plunder our environment.

The right to be ordained.

A decade or so ago, I'd have dinner with my conservative friends at conferences -- the fact that they didn't think I should be ordained mattered much less than our friendship -- and our shared Christian faith. Now they are pretty much all gone. And I'm not sure that there is a place for moderates like me, either.

We have so little conception of a "common good" -- instead, it is always about "us."

The Americans are making all kinds of noises about welcoming conservatives. Some of the bishops act confused, like they aren't quite sure about the implications of what they voted for. Well, the rest of the world is. If the majority of dioceses in the Anglican Communion decides to allow the Americans to stay in the "club" it will most likely be because Americans are generous with mission money.

But how satisfying it is, for the less than 2.1 million Episcopalians, to be finally, and forever, on the "rights" side.

dimanche, juillet 12, 2009

OK, so he's celibate

I had the most delightful, unexpected conversation yesterday.

Lost in a vast roiling sea of links about Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and "Wafergate", I was pleased when the phone rang. For a few minutes, I could extricate myself from what seemed to be utter bemusement among Canadian politicians, commentators, and journos about whether he a. took communion at a colleague's Catholic memorial service on purpose b. took it by accident because he doesn't get the etiquette around Catholic communion or c. took the wafer on purpose and (here the "scandal") put it in his pocket.

I hope I signalled my GR readers that I found this kerfluffle on the same level of silliness as whether Obama and Sarkosy were captivated by a young woman's backside at the G-8 ceremony.

I don't think I did. To be honest, I was enjoying it too much.

Also, I'm probably the only one in America who saw almost none of the Michael Jackson service. So I had three hours in which I could pay attention to what was happening to the North.

The phone rang at the point that I worried I would never escape from my day in Canada. When I picked up the receiver, a slightly ethereal voice identified itself as Fr. Paul, from Mt. Saint Marys. He had gotten the email about my wish to chat with faculty about the Pope's encylical, Caritas in Veritate. Because he's been retired for 16 years as a prof at the Seminary, he thought I should talk to someone currently teaching ethics (which I had already done, that morning.)

Then, to my surprise, he asked me if I ever visited the Seminary (which is in Maryland). When I owned up to living in Pennsylvania, he asked me what I was reading. Did I know about the publication of Henri Nouwen's latest (posthumous) essays? Had I read weekly essays by someone (I need to look him up) who writes for a Catholic ezine out West? And what would I suggest that he read?

I was taken with Fr. Paul's open mind, intellectual acuity, and sense of humor -- not to mention his interest in my opinions.

What an unexpected gift -- it's not so hard to find common ground, if you work at it, and you want to.