Two weekends ago, I had the immense blessing to be in Philadelphia to witness the beautiful representative of the Catholic Church that is Pope Francis. The conference that he was attending, and closing, was on the family and the life of the family within the Church. Following the World Meeting of Families, he is going to follow up his historic visit to the United States with the Synod on the Family. So, it would seem that family is significant on Francis’s list. After listening to him multiple times this weekend, I can attest to what he believes about the life of the family: love.
Just as Francis has been clear about some issues regarding families, he has been interestingly vague on others. On nearly every street corner in Philadelphia the throngs of people were confronted by men, young and old, asking us (mostly men, really) to sign a petition intended for Pope Francis that he might make a definitive statement about marriage being between a man and a woman. And yet, at the World Meeting of Families what did he tell us about families? That they are called to love the members within them; children are valuable to us because they are our future; our grandparents are our familial memory; and the love of the family should be lived out to bring love and joy to our communities. Many of us standing there were shocked. Francis finished his Saturday evening address without addressing what so many people had hoped he would: same-sex unions.Continue reading Pope Francis on the Family… and Beyond→
I don’t know about you, but I love learning. It’s truly one of my favorite things in the world. In fact, one of the reasons I’m a
teacher is, as I told my friend, John, last week, because I’m in the business of blowing minds. More often than not, I spend my free time cruising the internet for interesting and mostly useless bits of knowledge. Every once-in-awhile, though, I come across something absolutely astounding, a new piece of knowledge about the universe around me that completely shatters the constructs I had previously believed to be true.
Most often, I find that I am blown away by discoveries in astronomy, physics, or engineering. Whether it’s because I’ve spent some time studying these fields, they’re pet interests of mine, that they are just plain awesome, or all of the above it does not really matter: there is something inherently interesting in learning something that was previously never known, or sometimes never even considered to be real. Those are the most amazing discoveries: instances that seem impossible, but clearly exist, sometimes occurring more often than we realized.
I recently came across an article on the website IFLS.com that was as Earth-shattering as it was theologically revolutionary. The article was about a particular region of the Dominican Republic where some boys do not have a penis or testes until they reach puberty. Yes, that is correct. Please re-read it if you have to. BECAUSE IT’S MIND BLOWING. Don’t we know all that there is to know about the human body? How can the human body still have such amazing mysteries left for us to discover? Regardless, I think it’s a good reminder. Something that we believed to be so concrete and well-researched still has mystery. So it is with God.
I would be the first to admit that I am not certain what to make of people who say that they are transgender or the like. In all honesty, I also believe in our call by Christ to be generous and loving to all people, especially those in greatest need (whatever that may be). However, I wish there were simple answers to these complex questions that face us today. The Bible says nothing about transgendered people; it doesn’t have a lot of answers when it comes to homosexuality (fornication isn’t what you think it means… it’s really ambiguous); and it says a whole lot about love, trust, and “be not afraid.” I am a faith-filled person who relies on the certainties of science and research to help guide my faith in God. It seems like this crazy story about boys who were raised girls until they reached puberty and grew penises has something important to say about our world: it is a mystery.
One of the most important Truths of our Catholic faith is that God is the Divine Mystery. We often forget that. We like to put God and our faith in a little box, slap a label on it that says “Catholic” or “Christian” or “Bob” or “Debby” or “Pat.” Then, when something comes around that challenges what we believe to be true, we often shut it out instead of opening to the possibility that it is a part of the infinite mystery we call our God. Mystery doesn’t fit in a box. It cannot be tamed, nor should we want to tame it. That’s the beauty in our faith. We are not supposed to tame our God of Wonders, only to grow in relationship with the Father through the person of Jesus Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit.
Today, we have been witnesses of a historic event. For the first time in history, a Pope has visited the United States Congress. In the joint congressional session, Pope Francis spoke on a plethora of topics that concern the Catholic Church. From poverty and immigration to capitalism and climate change, the Pontiff captivated his audience of politicians from the moment his presence was announced.
For those interested, and I would highly suggest to do so, NPR has a play-by-play of the speech. We also have the transcript of Pope Francis’s speech to read at your leisure.
The Catholic Church, in all of its luminous and lurid history, has become notorious for its inability to “get with the times.” It is the general course of action for the Church that she moves at her own pace: intentional wisdom rather than rash choices. More often than not, wisdom prevails. Yet, the path to wisdom is one crafted over many years. The mere existence of the Catholic faith, its survival over the Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, and the British Empire has proven that slow wisdom is significant, even though it may be frustrating, even maddening. Yesterday (as much of Pope Francis’s papacy has been), was the fruits of some of that maddeningly slow wisdom.
In the motu proprios released today, the Vatican has simplified the annulment process for marriages. An experience that has been often characterized as painful and drawn out, Francis has simplified as much of the process as possible by keeping it within the local diocese in order to expedite the annulment ruling. It may seem like this is simply something to allow divorces more readily available, but it is so much more than that. These rulings allow for justice and mercy to be served as quickly as possible.
Along with Pope Francis’s edict on the forgiveness of abortions, the motu proprios communicate almost as much about
theology as they do the movement of politics within the Church. It seems, based upon these, other speeches, and letters by the current Pontiff, that Francis is calling for a Church more focused on its people, those who are on the ground-level of the faith. In that, the dioceses are becoming more autonomous in decisions that directly relate to their people. Priests and bishops are being encouraged to minister to the needs of their people. It has been Francis’s entire papacy to bring forth a renewed effort by the clergy to take their rightful place as the servants of those in greatest need.
In a Church that often still runs its business on antiquated operations, we are witnessing real change. We are slowly leaving some of the unnecessary, medieval trappings of a highly centralized Vatican, while still maintaining the role and authority of the magisterium. Thankfully though, we don’t have to crawl to the Vatican in order to receive mercy and forgiveness (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walk_to_Canossa). Through the patient wisdom of the Church and the example of Pope Francis, the needs of the faithful are being attended to in new and dynamic ways.
It’s not often that the news gets to report genuine good humanitarian efforts around the world. However, with the massive amount of refugees streaming out of the Middle East and North Africa, Germany and Austria have opened their gates to welcome people in the greatest of need. Let us all keep these people in our prayers and continue to pray for more good will like this across the world.
Language is communication. Without language, whether written or spoken or in whatever medium it may be, one is unable to communicate with others in a meaningful, relational way. When we ask how God communicates with humanity, language necessarily plays a role in this inquiry. This is perhaps why there may be such high stakes surrounding the answer to the question What language did Jesus speak?Continue reading Speaking the Same Language→
In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Paris that occurred at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters on January 7, as well as those others in the ensuing days, we have seen the swift response from the world, not least of all from the people of France themselves.
Immediately following the tremendous events of that day, leaders the world over spoke out against the form of radicalized, fundamentalist religion that led the Muslim gunmen to commit their heinous act of violence. Pope Francis, along with French bishops, as well as French Imams, and hosts of political leaders from different countries have voiced their sorrow and rage in reaction to the terror attack. The hacktivist group known as Anonymous even released a video in which a speaker, hidden by a Guy Fawkes mask, declared war on radical terror organizations like Al-Qaeda. The group claims to already have shut down a French terrorist website.1
While these reactions all share a deep opposition to the acts of violence witnessed, the particular response from different figures is, understandably, quite different. The hacktivist group has already begun their campaign to shut down terror websites, just as political leaders and government agencies have already mobilized their respective responses to the attack.
Religious leaders, however, have a different kind of role in the matter. Fr. Federico Lombardi of the Vatican Press Office expressed, in a matter of hours after the attack, the pope’s—and the Church’s—opposition to this example of the radical use of religion: “Whatever may be the motivation, homicidal violence is abominable. It is never justified: the life and dignity of all must be firmly guaranteed and guarded; any instigation to hate refuted; and respect for the other cultivated.” Indeed, he added that the pope said he “joins the prayers of the suffering and wounded, and of the families of the dead.”2
A religious leader or a religious group has a different responsibility in the aftermath of crises like the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Religion itself, and, as we see today, Islam in particular, has been abused by the ideologizing forces of terror organizations like Al-Qaeda and ISIS (or ISIL). The leaders of these religio-poltical groups use religion—use God—in order to justify their twisted agendas. Pope Francis summarized the phenomenon this way: “Religious fundamentalism, even before it eliminates human beings by perpetrating horrendous killings, eliminates God himself, turning him into a mere ideological pretext.”3
I have always believed that a strong relationship with God is central to my existence. Even though I am flawed, inconsistent, often distracted, and get led astray, I know that everything in my life builds upon this relationship. I also know that this relationship is deeply personal, and that there is a big difference between knowing God and knowing about God. I go to a Catholic university, which has required me to take several theology classes, but if I do not take what I learn in these classes to heart and allow it to affect my life, then theology has about as much of an effect on my relationship with God as any history class. Our relationship with God is a heart-to-heart one, and although the guidance of other people is often essential in our path to relationship with God, only you can take that essential last step, choosing to close the gap between you and God, because God desires to connect with our innermost selves, including the parts of ourselves that others do not understand or that we choose to hide.
To be in true relationship with God, you have to know him, know his heart, and hear his voice. Relationship requires trust, and you cannot trust someone that you do not know. So how exactly do you get to know God? This is a question that I have personally grappled with, and I would guess that others have too. It’s not easy to get to know someone who we can’t sit down next to and have a face to face conversation with. Of course, we experience God directly in a multitude of ways—through the Eucharist, through scripture, through the words and actions of others, and more. Nevertheless, this can be difficult to understand sometimes—we are human, after all! I personally tend to get distracted during Mass, or misunderstand scripture, and as much as I’d like to say that I easily see God in every person I encounter, sometimes that isn’t the case. I can work on all of these things constantly in order to strengthen my relationship with God. I think there is also, however, one more essential way to get to know God that we tend to ignore.
In Iraq, I consider this unlikely message: Jesus did not end suffering and injustice, but He will end them. He did not fight the way the world fights, with swords and guns and drones and jingoistic anthems. He did not win an ethno-nationalist victory for the Jews. He did not stop Lazarus from dying, nor did he heal every person or raise every Beloved from the dead.
Christ rejected Pharisees and went to the sinners, even to the Gentiles. He was like a Palestinian going to the Israelis, a Sunni going to the Shia, a Kurd going to an Arab, a Yazidi going to an ISIS fighter. He crossed all the lines. He didn’t form a new club to supersede all the others. He said, being in a club won’t save you. Nothing you do will ever save you. Stop trying to be good. Seek God, repent and ask to be saved.
The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end. Amen.
So beings “An Order for Compline” from the Book of Common Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church.
As a recently matriculated student to Yale Divinity School, I have found myself in a new place, with new friends, and among new religious traditions. At Boston College, I was never for lack of Mass, prayer, or all things Catholic. As a member of several Catholic student groups on campus, I had ample opportunity to discuss everything from the Bible to Church teaching to recent issues facing the church and her leadership. “My cup overflows,” as the Psalmist writes.
But, as with many things, life kept moving, even though I probably did not want it to. I graduated. And now I have begun my studies in Bible here at YDS.
I have already connected with the school’s Roman Catholic Fellowship group, and I have fast become a regular at the college’s Catholic Chapel, the aptly named St. Thomas More chapel. I have, in my several short weeks here, already dug my roots into the soils of New Haven.
But there has been, for me, a conspicuous lack of Catholicity. Or, perhaps more precisely, there is an abundance of catholicity, such that my Catholicism is unique.
This melting pot of Christianity at YDS has its advantages and disadvantages. I have found myself extremely at home with many new friends whose lives have been shaped by a very different forms of the Christian faith. But, equally so, I have found my comfortability stretched and tested at times, particularly with regard to liturgy.
None of this is to pass a value judgment on YDS or any of my Christian brothers and sisters. Indeed, the mission of the school and its demographic composition are not considerations of this article. What I mean to note is the beauty of this community of Christians who have come together to learn, prayer and grow as individuals and groups.