Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thomas Merton: the teacher I never met

In December 10, 1968 the world lost Thomas Merton. I never met him, but in a way he has been in my life for many years. He has influenced my theology and the way that I look at the world.

In his honor I share the following from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton. While this was published back in 1968, it is amazing to me how much of it is still relevant.

A basic temptation: the flatly unchristian refusal to love those whom we consider, for some reason or other, unworthy of love. And, on top of that, to consider others unworthy of love for even very trivial reasons. Not that we hate them of course: but we just refuse to accept them in our hearts, to treat them without inner reservations. In a word, we reject those who do not please us. We are of course "charitable toward them". An interesting use of the word "charity" to cover and to justify a certain coldness, suspicion, and even disdain. But this is punished by another inexorable refusal: we are bound by the logic of this defensive rejection to reject any form of happiness that even implies acceptance of those we have have decided to reject. This certainly complicates life, and if one is sufficiently intolerant, it ends by making all happiness impossible.

This means that we have to get along without constantly applying the yardstick of "worthiness" (who is worthy to be loved, and who is not). And it almost means, by implication, that we cease to ask even indirect questions about who is "justified," who is worthy of acceptance, who can be tolerated by the believer! What a preposterous idea that would be! And yet the world is full of "believers" who find themselves entirely surrounded by people they can hardly be expected to "tolerate," such as Jews, Negroes, unbelievers, heretics, Communists, pagans, fanatics, and so on.

God is asking of me, the unworthy, to forget my unworthiness and that of all my brothers, and dare to advance in the love which has redeemed and renewed us all in God's likeness. And to laugh, after all, at all preposterous ideas of "worthiness".

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Pope Francis is a Marxist? Here we go again...

It did not take long for Pope Francis to say and/or write something that once again made some people angry. This time it was political commentator/radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh who said among other "nuggets" of wisdom:

"The Pope has now gone beyond Catholicism, and this is pure political...it is very clear (the Pope) doesn't know what he's talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism, and so forth...What this is, somebody has either written this for him or gotten to him. This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope."

Really Rush? So either the Pope has been manipulated or he is a Marxist?
Or he "doesn't know what he's talking about"?

I ask, define "pure Marxism" and "political". Second, there is not much a religious leader can say (particularly one who also happens to be a head of state) that will not "sound political" or be "political".

The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium or "The Joy of the Gospel" appears to be raising Limbaugh's blood pressure. I wonder if he read the entire thing (as he claimed) or he stopped at a certain point when he was reading this "pure Marxism". We cannot be sure.

I did read the entire document (it took a while ha ha) and in my humble opinion as a theology student it has the usual elements that one can expect from Roman Catholic theology and centuries of Western Christian thought, starting with the first paragraph:

1. The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.

Well, nothing here about Marx, or Stalin, or some secret communist plot to bring back the Yugo...I guess the "problem" started here:

56. While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.

So talking about Christ, that is fine...describing the market as 'deified', well, we just can't have that sort of talk..

Accusations have been made that this sort of language was not used by either John Paul II or Benedict XV but this is incorrect. In his opinion piece The pope as Marxist: Is Limbaugh right?, Robert correctly points out that they were also explicit in their warnings against liberal capitalism and the dictatorship of the marketplace, producing encyclicals which, for their emphasis on social justice and the "option for the poor," would surely qualify for Rush Limbaugh as the very elixir of "Marxism."

The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) website has a section called "Human Life and Dignity" that includes topics like 'Abortion' and 'Contraception', along with 'Economic Justice' and 'Enviromental Justice'. Under Economic Justice the USCCB states: The Catholic bishops of the United States believe building a just economy that works for all encompasses a wide range of issues, including food security and hunger, work and joblessness, homelessness and affordable housing, and tax credits for low-income families, as well as protecting programs that serve poor and vulnerable people throughout the federal budget.

It continues:

The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.
All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.
A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.

Gustavo Gutierrez once said that theology is a matter of the stomach; our theology is very different when our stomachs are full. And as Ellsberg suggests:

Of course no one is troubled by a pope who embraces the sick and loves the poor. But when he dares to reflect on the moral and structural causes of poverty, that is a different matter. As Dom Helder Camara, another prophetic archbishop from Latin America, famously observed, "When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist." Some things never change.

And of course, here we go again...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Single and Christian...it can be tough, very tough

Hello my dear reader.

Single and Christian? You don't need me to tell you that sometimes it can be tough, very tough...

Justin Lee correctly points out that being "single in a relationship-obsessed culture can be a challenge" and "one of the most frustrating places to be when you’re single is church—especially in American Protestant churches":

See, American Protestant churches are great at supporting families. If you want to know how to be a better, more godly husband, wife, parent, or child, we’ve got you covered. We’ve got books. We’ve got classes. We’ve got sermons. We’ve got small groups. Here, have a special edition Bible.
But too often, we don’t seem to know what to do with single people other than somehow shove them into that frame.
It’s not that churches don’t know they have single people. The trouble is, many churches think about singleness only as a young person’s issue. And what do single teenagers need? Lots of advice on controlling their sex drives until marriage, apparently. But single adults need a lot more than that.
Single adults aren’t just coping with singleness for a few more years; some of us are facing the possibility of a lifetime alone. We want to know how to deal with our need for companionship. We wrestle with loneliness and depression. We crave a community of people who won’t be too busy for us because of kids and family obligations. We worry about what will happen to us in illness, old age, or dementia without a spouse and children to care for us. And yes, we have questions about appropriately handling our sexual desires as Christians, but for most of us, that’s far from the toughest thing about being single.
I would like to hear from you regarding this issue, and if you are a lay leader or priest/pastor I would also like to hear from you.